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McConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year'

McConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year'
© Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday predicted that the Taliban could overrun the Afghan government by the end of the year as U.S. troops withdraw.

“I think there's a high likelihood that the Taliban will be back in control of the country, maybe as early as the end of the year,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky.

McConnell has previously bashed President BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling MORE’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as a “grave mistake” that will “leave coalition partners and vulnerable Afghans high and dry,” but his comments Thursday put a specific marker on the dire predictions.

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The U.S. military is in the midst of fulfilling Biden’s order to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest war.

Some lawmakers and military officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure Biden struggles to detail post-withdrawal Afghanistan plans Overnight Defense: House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war powers | Pentagon leaders press senators to reimburse National Guard | New pressure on US-Iran nuclear talks MORE, have laid out worst-case scenarios for Afghanistan after the withdrawal where the Taliban overruns the Afghan government, allowing al Qaeda to thrive anew and rolling back the rights of Afghan women and minorities.

But Milley has also said he does not think the worst-case scenario is a “foregone conclusion.”

In announcing the withdrawal, Biden declared that it was “time to end the forever war.”

On Thursday, McConnell pushed back on that, saying he doesn’t “think you can call this an endless war.”

“We haven't been in raging combat the entire period,” McConnell said, citing the fact that no U.S. troops have been killed in combat in more than a year.

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But the lack of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan over the last year came as the Taliban largely held back in attacking U.S. and coalition forces after signing a withdrawal agreement with the Trump administration.

The Taliban has threatened to resume those attacks now that the May 1 deadline for a full U.S. withdrawal that was in last year’s agreement has passed.

McConnell also cited criticism of the withdrawal from former secretaries of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: The center strikes back Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE and Condoleezza Rice.

On CNN on Sunday, Clinton warned of “huge consequences" from the withdrawal.

“It’s not just me saying that,” McConnell said Thursday. “I believe it is a mistake to completely pull out. I think some presence there for counterterrorism and training purposes is an American's best interest.”