Illinois elected officials address crisis in Afghanistan

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The state’s top elected officials all addressed the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan Tuesday, reiterating that Illinois’ top priority is to bring residents home safely.   

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says the swift collapse of the country came as a surprise, given the resources that the nation spent training and equipping the Afghanistan military.

“The Taliban conquered nine provincial capitals in 13 days – no one saw that coming. I didn’t, and those who briefed us didn’t,” he said. “We are trying to have an orderly evacuation of Americans, and circumstances overwhelmed us.”

Chaos ensued at Kabul airport as throngs of Afghan people rushed the runways and surged toward planes as they were taking off. Some desperately clung to a US Air Force aircraft to avoid being left behind as the Taliban re-asserts its strict control over the country.   

The desperation follows a total military surrender.  

“When they were first challenges, they melted away. We cannot take on the responsibility of guaranteeing that they are going to fight for our values,” Durbin said. “We prepared them for it, we thought we prepared them well, but when the time came, they wouldn’t stand their ground, and then their government left the country.”

Veteran international observers are raising fears that women and children could face harsh consequences and restrictions.    

“For over two decades now, thousands of Afghans have chosen to put themselves and their families in great danger in order to support our troop’s mission in their country, and in return, our nation made a promise that we would keep our partners safe,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

Duckworth said the United States has an obligation to ensure the safety of the Afghans who fought in arms with the nation.

“Many of these brave men and women fought alongside our troops and thousands of them remain in grave danger as our nation completes its withdrawal. We should not break our word to them in their desperate moment of need,” she said. ‘

The desperate situation could result in tens of thousands of refugees.

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“The future of Afghanistan belongs to the people of Afghanistan, and we’ve learned a valuable lesson,” Durbin said.

As many as 300,000 people are estimated to have worked with the American Mission in Afghanistan over the last two decades. As a result, large numbers are expected to seek refugee protection in America.

Governor JB Pritzker said the state would welcome refugees.

“Frankly, if there’s an opportunity and there are refugees who come to the United States as a result of our ability to get them out, I hope that Illinois will be one place that will be able to welcome them.”

Duckworth adds that her highest priority is bringing Mark Frerichs home. Frerichs, from Lombard, has been missing since January of 2020, when he was abducted in Kabul. The US Navy veteran was working in the country as a civil engineer.    

Tuesday night, Durbin and Duckworth wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to convene the national security council to develop a clear strategy to bring Frerichs back to the US.

They wrote, in part, “Securing the safe release and return of potentially the only U.S. citizen being held hostage in Afghanistan is an urgent matter that the United States Government should prioritize. A whole-of-government approach will demonstrate our Nation’s commitment and resolve to leave no American behind in Afghanistan.”

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