New mission for Afghanistan War veterans running for Congress: evacuate Afghan allies

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Jesse Jensen has been heavily involved the past couple of weeks in the private efforts by Afghanistan War veterans to assist in the evacuation of Afghans who helped the U.S. the past two decades.

Jensen, one of roughly 15 veterans who served in the Afghanistan War who are running for Congress as Republicans in next year’s elections, is part of the so-called Task Force Pineapple, a group that says it’s so far helped more than 1,000 people escape from Afghanistan after the country was overrun last month by repressive Taliban forces.

The former Army Ranger and GOP candidate in Washington state’s 8th Congressional District noted that he helped an Afghan interpreter that he worked with during one of his tours of duty escape.

“We were able to successfully, for lack of a better term, kind of smuggle him out of the country, along with another interpreter and his family,” Jensen said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News.

“We’re still trying to get folks out,” he emphasized.

Jensen isn’t the only Afghanistan war veteran and congressional candidate who’s helping with the private evacuation efforts.

Shawn Collins, who served as a Navy JAG officer in the Afghanistan conflict and who’s launched a GOP House run in California’s 45th Congressional District, told Fox News, “I’ve been working with a lot of my Marine counterparts, just working back channels.”

And Esther Joy King, a JAG officer in the Army Reserves who’s also running for Congress, said she was “heartbroken” when Kabul, the country’s capital and largest city, fell to the Taliban last month. But she added that she “immediately started working my military networks, my Afghanistan networks, my political networks, to see who could evacuate people.”

King, an Illinois Republican, served as an aid worker in Afghanistan a dozen years ago, helping women learn professional skills.

“I’ve been able to be a part of getting 51 people out of Afghanistan,” she shared. And King touted that her actions are “representative of who I am as a battle-ready leader, a problem solver, jumping into action, making a difference.”

It’s no surprise that Jensen, Collins and King have also joined the chorus of criticism by Republicans and some Democrats of President Biden’s handling of the tumultuous evacuation and final withdrawal from Afghanistan and for failing to prepare for the lighting-fast takeover of the war-torn Central Asian country by the Taliban.

The U.S airlifted more than 120,000 people, including more than 5,500 Americans, from the time the Taliban captured Kabul last month through the final departure of U.S. forces earlier this week. Amid the evacuation, ISIS-K, an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, launched an attack last Thursday on Kabul’s international airport that left 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghan civilians dead.

Pointing to the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan exit, Jensen said, “I was never more disappointed with America as a country as I was at that point.”

But he added that “over the last 12 days, I have more than regained my passion for the American spirit that I find in my fellow members of Task Force Pineapple and Digital Dunkirk,” which is an online effort to get Afghans safely out of Afghanistan. 

Jensen, who came close to defeating Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier last November in a district that includes some suburbs and exurbs of Seattle and Tacoma as well as many rural areas to the east, took aim at the president’s efforts.

“You can debate whether or not you wanted to get out of Afghanistan, but you can’t debate how badly the plan was botched, and service members paid their lives for that,” he argued. “We were promised this was the guy that’s supposed to be good at foreign policy and look what’s happening.”

And he predicted that chaotic exit from Afghanistan will have a political impact next year, when the Republicans aim to win back majorities in both the House and Senate. 

“This is going to be a huge pendulum swing, and I think it’s going to erase the majorities in the House and the Senate and it’s going to really deal a blow to this administration because of their gross mismanagement of this,” Jensen said.

King, who came close in 2020 to defeating longtime Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos in a northwest Illinois congressional district, launched her 2022 campaign earlier this year, immediately after Bustos announced she wouldn’t run for reelection next year. 

“Americans are smart. Everybody sees what’s happening. They know the responsibility of whether it’s a gas crisis or a Afghan crisis or a border crisis, the fault lays squarely on this administration,” she claimed.

And King forecast that voters will seek “accountability, and I think that will swing heavily in favor of Republicans winning back the House and hopefully the Senate.”

Collins, who’s hoping to challenge two-term Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in an Orange County, Calif.-based district, charged that there’s been “a complete failure in leadership. We’re leaving that country with dishonor, and that’s an absolute disservice to all the veterans that have served there for the past 20 years.”

Asked how the situation in Afghanistan’s impacts his congressional campaign, he told Fox News, “I can tell you I’m a lot more motivated.”

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