Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Stefani Reynolds / The New York Times via AP, Pool

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins criticized the American exit from Afghanistan that led to the Taliban recapturing the country after a 20-year war whose end has divided Maine’s congressional delegation.

The Islamic extremist group took the capital of Kabul at the end of a speedy campaign through the country this weekend, leaving American diplomats to evacuate. At least seven people died at the city’s airport as desperate Afghans clung to evacuating American airplanes on Monday, which President Joe Biden described as “gut-wrenching” while standing behind his decision during a televised address.

The delegation has been split on the idea of withdrawal since then-President Donald Trump announced in November he would reduce the number of troops by Jan. 15, a date that was twice pushed back. Collins and Sen. Angus King, an independent, were skeptical then and said it would empower the Taliban, while Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District, praised it as a step toward ending the long conflicts.

The sudden sweep of the Taliban across Afghanistan in the past few days surprised many after the U.S. predicted the Afghan military could hold off the insurgents for several more months at least.

Collins said Monday the situation in Afghanistan was “as awful as it was avoidable,” accusing the Biden administration of misjudging conditions on the ground and failing to adequately prepare for the evacuation of Americans, along with certain Afghan citizens who are likely to be at risk under the Taliban.

“As the Taliban consolidates its sweeping control over Afghanistan, the opportunity exists for the country to once again become a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups targeting our country,” Collins said.

Golden — who served in the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan and has supported withdrawal — said the country should remain wary of terrorist threats but maintained that the drawdown was the appropriate response. He said the collapse of the Afghan army had created a “precarious” situation and that Biden should leave troops at the airport to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies.

Pingree, who has long opposed the war and has voted against extending its funding, said in a Monday statement that Biden was right to withdraw American troops, but she said the country’s focus should now be on getting those who assisted U.S. troops to safety.

“Our servicemembers and their families have made enormous sacrifices over the course of the last two decades; we must honor their dedication by ensuring another generation does not have to fight the same battle,” she said.

King, who has also called on the Biden administration over the past few months to speed the processing of Special Immigrant Visas, thinks ensuring the safety of American personnel and U.S. allies should be the current priority, his spokesperson Matthew Felling said Monday.

The Taliban’s quick advances also raise many questions about U.S. intelligence and strategy as well as the Afghan government and security forces, Felling said, adding that King would be seeking to understand “how our plans and expectations for the Afghanistan people after a trillion dollars, thousands of lives lost, and 20 years were so at odds with the reality we’ve seen play out over the last several weeks.”