Afghanistan’s ‘endless war’ will continue after US pullout, former CIA director says

Retired General David Petraeus says the US withdrawal plays well into the hands of the Taliban

FILE - In this Monday, April 30, 2018 file photo, former CIA director retired Gen. David Petraeus speaks during a discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference  in Beverly Hills, Calif. Writing Friday Oct. 19, 2018 in the Times of London, the former commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan said the United States' military cooperation with the U.K. could be threatened by the growing use of human rights laws to target British soldiers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The Biden administration’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan is ignominious, as it lets down the Afghans in their daily fight against their former oppressors, retired US military commander and former CIA director David Petraeus said.

“What is not clear is whether there is recognition in Washington that endless wars do not end with a withdrawal or drawdown of American involvement," Gen Petraeus said. "In the case of Afghanistan, for example, it appears that the endless war will continue and [is] quite likely [to] get worse, as already seems to be the case."

Gen Petraeus was speaking to an online seminar hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute to mark the launch of a book by French philosopher and rights activist Bernard-Henri Levy on Afghanistan. In the July 26 seminar, he said that the US withdrawal may result in the return of a “brutal medieval regime in which extremists once again find safe haven”.

Gen Petraeus was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and commander of US Forces – Afghanistan from July 4, 2010, to July 18, 2011. He also headed the US Central Command. He wrote the foreword of the book, Past as Prologue: Revisiting Bernard-Henri Levy’s 2002 Report on Afghanistan.

The book is the first English translation of the report Mr Levy wrote in 2002 following his visit to Afghanistan at the request of the then French president, Jacques Chirac. He was sent to assess the conditions on the ground and determine how France could contribute to Afghanistan’s rebirth as a nation following the US-led war that was started a year earlier.

“Needless to say, return of Taliban rule would at best undermine, or at worst reverse much of the progress achieved during that time," Gen Petraeus said. "As that prospect looms, perhaps it is time to revisit what once was hoped and envisioned by revisiting Mr Levy’s report of nearly two decades ago.”

In his subsequent report, Mr Levy pressed for France to take on a key role in areas ranging from strengthening the rule of law and women’s rights to helping to restore the country’s cultural heritage.

‘Betrayal’

The pullout decision by US President Joe Biden was a "betrayal" to the people of Afghanistan, Mr Levy said at the seminar.

“It’s all the more depressing for me as an old friend of Afghanistan to see the situation, which we Afghans and westerners are facing together, I mean this withdrawal, this betrayal by America and by the West in general," said Mr Lévy, who is the author of 30 books. "It’s so sad because the progress was considerable. We were on the good road and we decided to cut it.”

Mr Biden has strongly defended his decision to pull US military forces out of Afghanistan by the end of next month, saying the Afghan people must decide their future, rather than sacrificing another generation of Americans in an unwinnable war.

Mr Biden’s rationale centres on the argument that the US has defeated Al Qaeda and prevented another major attack on the US like the one launched on September 11, 2001.

The mastermind of that attack, Osama bin Laden, was killed in a US special operation on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan.

Dangerous Dependencies

Javid Ahmad, the Afghan ambassador to the UAE, criticised the war management in Afghanistan, saying many challenges lying ahead.

“My impression is that by looking at the positive side of the West engagement, ordinary Afghans see Afghanistan largely as a glass half full, because in the end, that's what mattered to them, Mr Ahmad said at the seminar.

"They are survivalists. But then again, Afghans are also clear-eyed about the challenges facing the country, especially right now. And so, for the vast majority of the Afghan people who believe right now that the glass is half full, it would actually matter if we're going to end up throwing the glass away altogether.”

Mr Ahmad said his country has not managed so far to overcome “dangerous dependencies” and said that warlords have become a central part in Afghanistan’s power dynamic.

“Now, I say that the word 'warlord' is a very loaded term under which, in today's context, much of the criminal activities take place, from organised crime to drug trafficking, to terrorism financing, to engaging in mafia-type politics,” he said.

Another factor the ambassador singled out as one of the obstacles to Afghanistan’s prosperity is its dependence on Pakistan.

“I would mention the very similar, very dangerous and toxic dependence on Pakistan. Now, this dependence and reliance and oftentimes over-reliance from the start of the campaign proved more dangerous than anything else, perhaps. And this is my argument, and this is perhaps the key reason for our collective failure in Afghanistan,” he said.

“Pakistan today has an organised large-scale militant force that's operating in Afghanistan. And by today, I mean how this formation has changed since President Biden has announced the withdrawal, the Afghan Taliban are just one part of that elaborate militant force,” he said.

The Taliban militants in Afghanistan have in recent weeks made advances and raised fears that the country will slide into civil war again.

Since it was announced that almost all foreign troops led by the US would withdraw from Afghanistan, Taliban have captured territories from government forces in key cities like Herat and Kandahar.

US and Nato forces toppled the Taliban from power in November 2001.

Updated: August 2nd 2021, 7:39 AM
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