Retired General David Petraeus on Sunday slammed President Biden’s accelerated troop pullout from Afghanistan
The United States military’s former top commander in Afghanistan said President Joe Biden’s accelerated withdrawal of American forces has left the Central Asian country on the verge of a ‘brutal civil war.’
‘The situation on the ground has become increasingly dire with each passing week,’ Retired General David Petraeus told CNN on Sunday.
Biden recently announced that all US troops will leave Afghanistan by August 31. Earlier this year, the president initially marked September 11 as the deadline by which American troops would be home.
The sooner-than-expected drawdown of US forces, which will end the longest-ever war in American history, comes as the Taliban continues to make significant gains against the US-backed government in Kabul.
When asked on Sunday if he thought the American withdrawal was a mistake, Petraeus said that he did.
‘I fear we will look back and regret the decision to withdraw,’ said the former Army general who went on to become CIA director.
This May 2, 2021 handout photo from the Afghan Ministry of Defense shows US soldiers lowering the American flag during a handover ceremony to the Afghan National Army in Helmand Province
Petraeus (seen above in 2010) was commander of US forces in Afghanistan. He said the ‘hasty’ American exit has put Afghanistan on the brink of a ‘brutal civil war’
‘Sadly, we may regret that sooner than I had originally thought when I said that right after the decision was announced.’
He added: ‘Beyond that, I think we will also look back and regret the hasty way in which we seem to be doing this.’
The US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country in the weeks and months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania.
The country, which was run by the Taliban at the time, served as the base of operations for Osama bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda network carried out the 9/11 attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, center, greets General Austin Scott Miller, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, with the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at left, upon Miller’s return, at Andrews Air Force Base, U.S. July 14, 2021. Austin returned to the country as the Taliban continue to rack up territorial gains
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (C), greets Gen. Scott Miller, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, with a handshake and an embrace as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, left, looks on
After the American invasion, bin Laden fled to neighboring Pakistan, where he was given refuge. In 2011, a team of American commando forces found him in his hideout and assassinated him.
While the Taliban government was dislodged from Kabul, it was never fully vanquished.
Since 2001, more than 2,300 American military personnel have died and more than 20,000 have been wounded in Afghanistan.
The number of Afghan civilians who have died ranges from 35,000 to 40,000, according to estimates.
The financial cost of maintaining the war effort is also steep for the American taxpayer, as the Pentagon is estimated to have spent more than $824billion in Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have chalked up dozens of wins and now hold key border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
A militiaman loads his rifle as Afghan Special Forces visit a district centre during a combat mission against the Taliban in Kandahar province
The insurgents say they are not seeking an outright military victory over the Afghan government, but peace efforts have long been stalled and without a deal, the country risks an all-out civil war for power among all its many armed factions.
Petraeus disagreed with the suggestion that the US-backed Afghan forces were content to let the Americans do the heavy lifting against the Taliban during the course of the 20-year war.
‘The Afghan National Security Forces had been fighting and dying in very large numbers. And they still are,’ he said.
‘The problem now is they’re not sure if someone is coming to the rescue, and that injects a very considerable amount of uncertainty into the battlefield.’
Petraeus acknowledged that the US had reason to be frustrated with the war effort since American forces were unable to target Taliban bases in neighboring Pakistan.
Still, a complete withdrawal won’t solve the problem, according to the former commander.
The Taliban now claims to be in control of 80 per cent of Afghan territory, with a major offensive to retake towns and cities expected over the summer (pictured, a Taliban spokesmen holding a news conference last week in Russia)
‘No one wants to see endless wars ended more than those who have actually served in them, but we are not ending this war, we are ending US involvement in it,’ he said.
Petraeus added: ‘What I see now, sadly, is the onset of what is going to be quite a brutal civil war.’
Earlier this week, the last commander of US forces in Afghanistan landed at Joint Base Andrews after resigning his post.
Gen. Austin ‘Scott’ Miller returned to the US on Wednesday after resigning his command. He was greeted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
George W. Bush says it is a ‘mistake’ to pull out US troops
Former U.S. president George W. Bush has criticised the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and said civilians were being left to be ‘slaughtered’ by the Taliban.
‘Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. This is a mistake… They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart,’ Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
The former Republican president, who sent troops to Afghanistan in autumn 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, said he believed German Chancellor Angela Merkel ‘feels the same way’.
Bush said Merkel, who is set to retire from politics later this year after 16 years in power, had brought ‘class and dignity to a very important position and made very hard decisions’.
US and NATO forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in early May and are due to completely pull out by Sept. 11, some 20 years after they arrived in the war-torn country.
Most of the 2,500 US and 7,500 NATO troops who were in Afghanistan when U.S. President Joe Biden detailed the final withdrawal in April have now gone, leaving Afghan troops to fight an emboldened Taliban seemingly bent on a military victory.
The country is facing a crisis as the insurgents snap up territory across the countryside, stretching government forces and leading to a fresh wave of internally displaced families, complicated by a renewed outbreak of Covid-19.
The United Nations said on Sunday the rising conflict is causing ‘more suffering’ across the violence-wracked country as it called for continuous financial aid.
Biden has insisted, however, that it is time for U.S. involvement in the war to end and for Afghans to chart their own future.
Both men embraced Miller and greeted him as he arrived at Join Base Andrews near Washington, D.C. They each also patted him on the back.
‘Welcome home, General. Well done,’ Austin told him.
Miller led US and NATO forces in the country for the past three years.
He has passed command to another four-star general, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, and will operate from his headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
He handed over command at a departure ceremony in Kabul on Monday.
‘The people of Afghanistan will be in my heart and on my mind for the rest of my life.’
His departure came at a time of sweeping Taliban gains, while once again imposing its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
In a rare public rebuke, former President George W. Bush, who launched the US and allied Afghan war in 2001, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, ‘This is a mistake.’
He said of the impact on the Afghan people: ‘They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people, and it breaks my heart.”
He stressed the fates of women, children, and innocents.
‘I’m afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm,’ he said.
The Taliban is enforcing its harsh interpretation of Islamic rule and reverting to its fundamental roots as it makes huge advances across Afghanistan.
Insurgents are issuing new orders to captured territories, banning smoking and beard-shaving and ordering villagers to marry off their daughters to foot soldiers and stopping women from heading out alone.
The Islamist group warned that anyone who breaks the rules ‘will be seriously dealt with’.
The Taliban, which was overthrown by the US-led invasion in December 2001, three months after 9/11, is making a resurgence as it capitalizes on the withdrawal of foreign troops.
On Wednesday, militants claimed to have seized the strategic border crossing of Spin Boldak along the frontier with Pakistan.
The interior ministry insisted the attack had been repelled and government forces had control, but a Pakistan security source said the Taliban’s white flag was flying over the town.
It comes a day after video emerged of Taliban fighters massacring 22 Afghan commandos who had surrendered in Dawlat Abad, in northern Faryab province.
Afghan government forces have taken over defence of the country following the retreat of US and NATO forces, but are struggling to retain control (file image)
The Islamists are trying to persuade government troops to abandon their posts on the promise of safe passage back to their homes as they take advantage of the US withdrawal.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 based on a fundamental interpretation of the Koran that has hardly changed in centuries.
Women were ordered to stay indoors unless accompanied by a male relative, girls were banned from school, and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death.
Men had relatively more freedom but were ordered not to shave, would be beaten if they didn’t attend prayers, and were told to only wear traditional clothing.
Afghanistan is deeply conservative and some rural pockets of the country adhere to similar rules even without Taliban oversight – but the insurgents have tried to impose these edicts even in more modern centers.
A statement purporting to come from the Taliban circulated on social media this week ordered villagers to marry off their daughters and widows to the movement’s foot soldiers.
Disturbing footage has emerged purporting to show the moment 22 Afghan commandos were massacred in the town of Dawlat Abad on June 16 while surrendering to the Taliban
Footage shows unarmed soldiers with their arms raised being marched into the street before men with rifles open fire while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’
‘All imams and mullahs in captured areas should provide the Taliban with a list of girls above 15 and widows under 45 to be married to Taliban fighters,’ said the letter, issued in the name of the Taliban’s cultural commission.
Similar edicts were issued by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice during the Taliban’s first stint in power.
The group has now denied making any such statement and dismissed it as propaganda as it attempts to project a softer image.
‘These are baseless claims,’ said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group.
‘They are rumors spread using fabricated papers.’
The Taliban insist they will protect human rights – particularly those of women – but only according to ‘Islamic values’, which are interpreted differently across the Muslim world.