David Petraeus: prospects for Afghan people 'very grim'

Former ISAF commander and CIA director highlights humanitarian plight and threat from ISIS-K

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 future prospects for the Afghan people are “very grim” and “very bleak,” David Petraeus, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, has said, as the Taliban struggles to get to grips with running a country in chaos.

The former CIA director said Afghan citizens' regard for the country's new rulers was best illustrated by the tens of thousands — if not more — of Afghans who have fled and are attempting to leave the country

He also highlighted the deadly attacks carried out by ISIS-K as an example of how severe the situation is in Afghanistan.

A looming humanitarian catastrophe “will require the world to take action,” but the “fact is that the Taliban has no money,” as funds remain frozen after the hardline group’s rapid takeover of the country in August. The interim government it has formed is courting international support, but has so far not been recognised by any country.

“The 75 per cent of the budget that the US and other donor nations used to provide is undoubtedly not going to be forthcoming, certainly not to the Taliban. There will be efforts to provide humanitarian assistance that are already ongoing and substantial amounts … but not directly to the Taliban, its reserves are frozen around the world,” he told the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee.

He highlighted how there had already been a devastating drought this year, and “the lights could go out” if the Taliban cannot pay for electricity from Central Asian states.

Mr Petraeus said any international recognition or even assistance would be limited because of the way Afghanistan is currently being run.

“So far what we are seeing is a bit of a mix, because of course there are local leaders that are interpreting things in local ways.

“But by and large, I don't think you can look at what has happened and say that it's particularly encouraging about the ability of women to continue to go to college or to continue to go to even secondary school, or to have a job, other than in a place which is strictly female, like an attendant to the female toilet or something like this.”

Mr Petraeus reminded MPs of previous warnings he had given of the psychological collapse of the Afghan security forces. He has also said the withdrawal of US troops was hasty, and raised concerns about the removal of US contractors who maintained the Afghan air force.

“Well frankly I feared that what did happen, would actually happen. And with respect to this particular decision, I feared that we would see at some point — and increasingly as I saw that the 18,000 contractors were withdrawn who were so essential to maintaining the most critical element of the Afghan security forces, their air force — I publicly said that I feared a psychological collapse of the Afghan security forces.

“Of course that is what did transpire, and I think it's very hard to say that this result is anything but heartbreaking, tragic, and in many respects disastrous.”

A major problem for international forces, Mr Petraeus said, was that many Taliban leaders resided in Pakistan for years and were largely outside of the US’s reach, “you really could never go to the complete source and you just had to understand you weren't going to be able to win”.

But he said it was Pakistan which may ultimately bear the biggest brunt of the Taliban takeover and humanitarian disaster.

“I think actually Pakistan is going to be the country under most pressure as a result of this. Again you will recall that there was a degree of celebration coming out of Islamabad. They certainly were not concerned by the Taliban takeover, to put it mildly.

“But now, because of this humanitarian catastrophe that we are going to see in Afghanistan, the logical recipient of the refugee flow is going to be Pakistan. They can try to close the Khyber Pass and the other borders and all the rest of that, but there's many ways to get across if you're sufficiently desperate.

“Tragically, Afghans are already sufficiently desperate and they are going to get even more so as foodstuffs and humanitarian assistance and so forth, come up short.”

Updated: October 19th 2021, 5:38 PM