On Sunday, the general who commanded U.S. and Allied troops in Afghanistan and later served as the director of the CIA, David Petraeus, slammed the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, telling CNN, “I fear that we will look back and regret the decision to withdraw.”
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked Petraeus, “What is your assessment of the situation right now? You hear these claims that the Taliban controls 85 percent of the country, but as you and I know, that’s geography. They don’t control the major cities where most of the people live. So give us a lay of the land. How likely is it that they will control the entire country?”
“Well, I’m not sure that they’ll take the entire country, Fareed, but the situation on the ground has become increasingly dire with each passing week. You see them now on the outskirts fighting in some of the outer areas of Kandahar City, arguably the second most important city in all of Afghanistan,” Petraeus answered, adding, “And let me say up front if I could, in addition to just it’s great to be with you again, that no one wants to see endless wars ended more than those who have actually served in them, but we are not ending this endless war, we are ending U.S. involvement in it.”
“Because we end the involvement of the 3500 U.S. troops, we’re also seeing over 8,000 NATO troops leave and we’re seeing some 15,000 or so contractors leave as well,” he continued. “And they’re critical to maintaining the Afghan Air Force, which is essential to ensure that Afghan soldiers realize that someone is coming to the rescue with additional troops and with close air support. Gradually that air force is already being degraded in its operational readiness. It’s flying at an astronomical tempo in a country that is very vast with very high mountains and I fear that we will look back and regret the decision to withdraw.”
“And I think sadly, we may regret that sooner than I had originally thought when I said that right after the decision was announced,” Petraeus theorized. “Beyond that, I think we will also look back and regret the hasty way in which we seem to be doing this, with no plan yet … But what I see now, sadly, is the onset of what is going to be quite a brutal civil war, considerable ethnic and sectarian displacement, assassination of government officials, millions of refugees flooding into other countries, particularly Pakistan. We will see the return of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, although I don’t see an immediate domestic security threat for the U.S. in that regard.”
Asked what he would “say to those Americans who would say, look, we have been in Afghanistan for 20 years. We have spent by some accounts $2 trillion. We have tried to train the Afghan National Army. We have trained the Afghan police force. We have paid for the entire Afghan government’s budget for 20 years. And yet when Kandahar fell or the parts of it that fell to the Taliban, the Afghan Army did not really fight,” Petraeus pointed out that his son and daughter-in-law served in Aghanistan before.
“We halted the momentum of the Taliban,” he said. “… We accelerated the training of the Afghan National Security Forces, and we began the process of transition of tasks slowly from our forces to Afghan forces, and that worked well for a number of years.”
He added, “Look, we aren’t on the front lines anymore. So there’s not a great deal, and I guess they could rocket our bases a bit more. But again, what we are doing is enabling the Afghan National Security Forces with advice, assistance, close air support, lots of drones. … We have to recognize, we have to continue to combat the Islamist extremist with a sustained sustainable commitment and that should be the way we go at these. You can’t win them. You can manage them.”