George Bush, the former president, and his wife Laura Bush, the former first lady, issued a statement late Monday about the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan with a message to U.S. troops, veterans, diplomats and the intelligence community who have served in the country over the past two decades.
“Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible,” the statement read. “And some of your brothers and sisters in arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage. You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care. You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.”
The war in Afghanistan began under Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Washington gave Taliban leader Mullah Omar an ultimatum: hand over Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and dismantle militant training camps or prepare to be attacked. Omar refused, and a U.S.-led coalition launched an invasion in October.
The swift fall of Kabul to Taliban fighters and the subsequent chaos in the country has sparked new criticism of the two-decade effort.
— George W. Bush Presidential Center (@TheBushCenter) August 17, 2021
Bush, who criticized the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in July, said he watched the tragic events unfolding with “deep sadness.” He pointed out that President Biden promised to evacuate the Afghans who have been at the “forefront of progress inside their nation.”
“The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” his statement read.
He also expressed optimism about Afghanistan.
“Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people. Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan’s future,” the statement read.
Last month, the former president told Deutsche Welle that a troop withdrawal would have tremendous consequences in the country, especially for women and girls.
“This is a mistake,” Bush said. “They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.”