When it comes to events in Afghanistan, Chester County state Rep. and retired Marine Col. Craig Williams has a simple and direct message: People first, politics later.

“The first emphasis in the public discussion has to be getting everybody home,” Williams said in an emotional interview with Delaware Valley Journal. “I’m more worried about the mental and emotional and physical well-being of those people still on the ground in Afghanistan than I am about scoring political points right now. Being a combat veteran, I can tell you that the anguish those people are under is absolutely horrendous.”

Nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members, were killed in a suicide bomb attack last Thursday at the airport in Kabul.

“They are on constant alert,” Williams said of the U.S. military personnel conducting the evacuation. “They don’t know where the next attack is coming from. They know the next attack is absolutely eminent. They’ve lost loved ones, comrades in arms, and they have no sense of what the plan is for getting them out. So being two weeks into the ordeal, with no sense of what the final outcome is going to be, is anguish like you and I can’t comprehend.”

Williams, who spent 28 years in the Marine Corps, including serving overseas during Desert Storm, added that while it’s obvious the withdrawal has been poorly handled, this is not the time for political recriminations.

“What I have absolutely no tolerance for right now is abject partisanship,” Williams said. “The whole world can see failures of the administration, including a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who publicly stated his intelligence never predicted a collapse of Afghanistan in 11 days. Contingency planning – imagining the worst – is the singular responsibility of us as military officers and being able to quickly adapt and overcome when the unimaginable occurs.”

“Whether or not we may have executed a more rational withdrawal is irrelevant,” he said. “Many will disagree about whether it was wise at all to withdraw from Afghanistan, but I know we went there to make our homeland safer from attack.  Now the Taliban is armed to the teeth with American weaponry.”

Williams, 56, is also very concerned about other veterans, especially those with PTSD, who are watching what is happening in Afghanistan on television. “The images they are forced to see with the Taliban now armed with our American weapons, having seen 20 years of our work basically thrown down the toilet,” he said.

“I’m conducting outreach tour local veterans,” said Williams.  “And people who have lost loved ones, too.

In a written statement after the interview, Williams noted: “We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide, and events like these are extremely traumatic. The images of the Taliban (terrorists) using American weapons are both infuriating and deeply depressing.  I will continue to seek out veterans at home to provide them whatever reassurance can.  I am feeling it too.  Sometimes that commonality is enough.”

And Williams questioned President Biden’s ability to provide the leadership the nation needs to address this crisis.

“What this moment requires is a commanding leader with military acumen,” said Williams. “The country needs comfort in knowing that someone with a rational mind is in charge and going to get our people and allies out safely. We need someone who will make a hard decision and forge boldly forward with a commanding presence.

“Those at the airport existing in total horror require it. The military requires it. The nation requires it. And the world is watching,” he added.