(CNSNews.com) – The two House Democrats in Wednesday night’s presidential debate tussled over U.S. policy in Afghanistan, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) calling for the withdrawal of American troops, and Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) arguing that without ongoing engagement, the terror threat will grow.
During one of the livelier exchanges during the debate, Gabbard implied that Ryan did not know that al-Qaeda, not the Taliban, attacked the United States on 9/11.
“We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when this war began,” she said. “This is why it’s so important to have a president and commander-in-chief who knows the cost of war and who’s ready to do the job on day one.”
“I am ready to do that job when I walk into the Oval Office,” added Gabbard, who served in an Army National Guard field medical unit during the Iraq war.
She said so many lives had been lost in Afghanistan and so much money spent – “money that’s coming out of every one of our pockets, money that should be going into communities here at home.”
The segment began with moderator Rachel Maddow noting that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for killing two American troops in Afghanistan.
Ryan was asked why it was that presidents from different parties and with “very different temperaments” – Presidents Obama and Trump – both wanted to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but had been unable to do so.
Recalling that his time in Congress included 12 years on committees dealing with defense issues, Ryan said, “the lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to stay engaged in these situations. Nobody likes it. It's long. It’s tedious.”
“I would say we must be engaged in this. We must have our State Department engaged. We must have our military engaged to the extent they need to be.”
Gabbard made her strong disagreement evident.
“Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan? Well, we just have to be engaged? As a soldier, I will tell you, that answer is unacceptable.”
“We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan,” she said.
Ryan said he wished the U.S. did not have to be engaged, “but the reality of it is, if the United States isn’t engaged, the Taliban will grow. And they will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts. We have got to have some presence there.”
Gabbard said the Taliban was in Afghanistan long before the U.S. military intervention in 2001.
“We cannot keep U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan thinking that we’re going to somehow squash this Taliban that’s been there, that every other country that’s tried has failed.”
“I didn’t say squash them,” Ryan interjected. “When we weren’t in there, they started flying planes into our buildings. So I'm just saying right now—”
“The Taliban didn't attack us on 9/11,” Gabbard said. “Al-Qaeda did. Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11. That’s why I and so many other people joined the military, to go after al-Qaeda, not the Taliban.”
“I understand that,” said Ryan. “The Taliban was protecting those people who were plotting against us.”
“You know who’s protecting al-Qaeda right now?” Gabbard said. “It’s Saudi Arabia.”
But no one picked up on that, and the debate moved on.
Following a ten-year Soviet occupation and amid a drawn-out civil war, the Taliban took over most of Afghanistan in 1996. The fundamentalist militia provided shelter there for its al-Qaeda allies, and remained in power until – after refusing to hand over al-Qaeda terrorists following the 9/11 terror attacks – it was toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.