Former Intelligence Officials on the ‘Deteriorating’ Situation in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — Had President Biden sought Gen. David Petraeus’s advice on the Allied troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, he has made no secret of that fact he would have advised against it, even though the general admits the goals from engaging in 2001 have largely been met.
“The decision didn’t end the war, it merely ended U.S. involvement in the war,” the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and former CIA director told Ambassador Mark Green, CEO of the non-profit Wilson Center, during a recent discussion of the implications of the withdrawal in Afghanistan. “We should always recognize that these movements continue… and clearly Al Qaeda will come back.”
“We stayed for a reason: to prevent them from reestablishing… sanctuary,” he said. “We didn’t go there to nation-build. We didn’t go there to enable girls to go to school… We stayed for what we could do, prevent Al Qaeda from establishing sanctuary [on Afghan soil].”
And now that troops have been withdrawn and bases have been closed, Petraeus worries not only that terrorists will come back, but also that the U.S. has neglected its pledge to helpers in the region, and that Allied partners may wonder about U.S. sustainability and commitment for long-term conflicts in the future.
“There is an issue of credibility here,” agreed Great Britain’s Sir John Scarlett, former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
While Scarlett admitted that there would undoubtedly be a difference in the way the U.S. and the U.K. reacted to the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, he feels in the U.K. there is a “degree of surprise” that it happened at this particular moment, especially as it is unclear that there was much consultation with major allies before the decision was taken.
He said that the consequences of the withdrawal of forces has led to “feelings of unease” and increasing the perception that “we could be facing something very difficult in the next few weeks,” whether that may be an influx of refugees from the region or even a need to return to stabilize a rapidly deteriorating situation.
“Fundamentally this is a U.S. led situation, and there’s an inevitability at the end of the day about [eventual withdrawal],” said Scarlett.
“Specific objectives may have been met, but inevitably you get drawn in [to other challenges]…You can’t draw a line on responsibilities,” he offered, admitting the benefit of hindsight.
Of particular importance, both men insisted, was the key security concern for those Afghan partners left on the ground, whether interpreters or other workers associated with Allied forces, and what Petraeus called the “seeming lack of planning, until recently, for how to discharge our moral obligation” to them.
“A superpower has to keep many plates spinning at one time,” Petraeus said. “Among the plates spinning [should be] a very modest sustained and sustainable effort in Afghanistan.”
While there was undoubtedly a clear risk that staying in the country beyond the Trump administration’s February 2020 agreement with the Taliban could result in Allied deaths and the renewal of attacks by the Taliban, Scarlett agreed that it “seems reasonable to say that the scale at which we were operating was sustainable.”
Preferring to call it a campaign rather than an endless war, Scarlett said, “I’ve yet to meet anybody who believes any… assurances from the Taliban. The return of terrorist activity is an absolutely key point and obviously a risk” not only to the urban society that has developed in Afghanistan over the last twenty years in all areas of life, but also to the safety of democracies worldwide.
“I fear this is a decision we will come to regret… and soon. I hope I am wrong on that,” said Petraeus.
“I broadly support much of the foreign policy that is emerging [from the Biden administration],” he said, though, “Afghanistan is one of the few issues which there is a decision we may look back on and wish we had not made.”
In The News
WASHINGTON — The European Union has claimed the role of global climate champion by taking charge of climate change discussions... Read More
WASHINGTON — The European Union has claimed the role of global climate champion by taking charge of climate change discussions and passing an ambitious set of policy initiatives that codify the bloc’s push for climate neutrality by 2050. But the EU’s plan to get to net-zero... Read More
WASHINGTON — The rapidly evolving turmoil and political leadership shift in Kazakhstan drew reactions from Washington, with special concern over... Read More
WASHINGTON — The rapidly evolving turmoil and political leadership shift in Kazakhstan drew reactions from Washington, with special concern over the involvement of Russian-led security forces. But former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol (2015-2018) says that despite all that is going on between Russia and... Read More
WASHINGTON — The pandemic led to increased bias against Asians according to a recent report. The RAND Corporation recently published... Read More
WASHINGTON — The pandemic led to increased bias against Asians according to a recent report. The RAND Corporation recently published findings from a series of surveys that identified key themes regarding the causes of, reaction to, and mitigation measures against anti-Asian racism in the context of... Read More
WASHINGTON — Investment markets around the world are realizing that a short-term focus on purely financial goals is no longer... Read More
WASHINGTON — Investment markets around the world are realizing that a short-term focus on purely financial goals is no longer sufficient. But as the momentum behind environmental, social, and governance builds, it’s the European Union that is really leading the charge, launching a series of reforms... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Brookings Institution recently held an event with experts discussing the growing hostility of education politics due to... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Brookings Institution recently held an event with experts discussing the growing hostility of education politics due to COVID-19 induced school closures, mask and vaccine mandates and how to protect the wellness of students in the new year. “There are so many of us... Read More
WASHINGTON — The blue economy is a critical subset of the ocean economy, according to Jason Scorse, director of the... Read More
WASHINGTON — The blue economy is a critical subset of the ocean economy, according to Jason Scorse, director of the Center for the Blue Economy. And while some people may use the terms blue economy and ocean economy synonymously, he and a group of other leaders... Read More