Former CIA Director Warns Trump Administration to Proceed with Caution in Afghanistan as “Taliban Not Nearly Defeated”

Former CIA Director and retired US Army General David Patraeus recently wrote an article on Wall Street Journal to express and warn that any haste in troop withdrawal from Afghanistan might be dicey.

He pointed that though an announcement of a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban is said to be imminent, and the fact that U.S. will reportedly promise to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban commitment to cooperate against international terrorism and enter direct talks with the Afghan government, he said that leaders in US “must proceed with caution”.

“For Americans as well as Afghans, any possibility of settling this conflict is cause for hope. But even as citizens in both countries pray for peace, leaders in Washington must proceed with caution. While diplomatic progress with the Taliban may justify a reduction in U.S. force levels, under no circumstances should the Trump administration repeat the mistake its predecessor made in Iraq and agree to a total withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan”, he wrote.

He is of the opinion that a complete military exit from Afghanistan currently, would be even more ‘ill-advised and risky than the Obama administration’s disengagement from Iraq in 2011”.

Comparing the present situation of Afghanistan with that of Iraq, Patraeus said that Iraq still had largely been stabilized by the time the last U.S. combat elements left, with al Qaeda having been routed during the 2007 surge.

But in Afghanistan, by contrast, he pointed out, the Taliban are far from defeated, while some 20 foreign terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS retain a presence in the region. “It is unlikely that any will join a peace deal” he remarked.

He also warned that the idea of U.S. leaving if the Taliban promise to combat rather than conspire with other terror groups is “wrongheaded”.

“Until the Taliban demonstrate they have both the determination and the capability to work with the Afghan government against international terrorists—and there is ample reason to doubt this—common sense dictates the U.S. must retain its own means to pressure extremist networks plotting against the American homeland and U.S. allies”, he said.

Patraeus also warned of a possible full-blown civil war and the re-establishment of a terrorist sanctuary as it existed when the 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan if the Trump administration hastily implements the troop withdrawal.

He pointed out that the Taliban have clearly indicated what they will try to do once U.S. forces are gone-they will overthrow the Afghan government and reimpose their rule.

He highlighted that the Taliban has been resistant to a formal cease-fire, and continued barbaric and gruesome attacks on civilians, and opposition to elections scheduled for this fall are all warning signs.

“Such a conflagration is likely to reinvigorate the flagging fortunes of Islamist extremism world-wide and the global terrorist threat—which, despite the destruction of Islamic State’s territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria, is by no means defeated”, Patraeus wrote.

On the other hand, the retired US General also said that any effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan or in neighboring tribal areas of Pakistan, will prove all but impossible absent an enduring U.S. footprint on Afghan soil.

He clarified for the doubts of several Americans who are not happy with the financial and human costs of retaining troops in Afghanistan, saying that the cost of retaining a few thousand troops in Afghanistan “pales in comparison” with the price the nation will pay, strategically and economically, if al Qaeda or ISIS rebuilds a terrorist platform there.

He said that if the U.S. abandons Afghanistan to chaos, a pattern as seen with rising instability in Iraq and Syria, is likely to repeat itself.

“The Trump administration should apply the lessons of that tragic experience to the present situation in South Asia. Simply put, the kind of U.S. withdrawal that was inadvisable in Iraq eight years ago would be indefensible for Afghanistan today”, he conceded.

This article by Patraeus included several points of concern regarding the Afghan Peace Process. Despite several rounds of talks between US and Taliban, the Taliban continues to perpetuate violence and instability in greater parts of Afghanistan, claiming responsibility of several gruesome attacks which have claimed the lives of civilians.
Moreover, many security experts have also pointed in the past that even if Taliban were to come to middle ground and accept peace the way Afghans wanted, other terror groups like IS-K and Al Qaida still have a good chance of rising up again in the territories of Afghanistan, and these groups effectively lie outside any commitment or bandwidth of any kind of peace negotiations.

David H. Petraeus is a retired four-star Army general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Petraeus served as CIA director from September 2011 to November 2012. Prior to that, he spent 37 years in the Army, culminating his career with six consecutive commands as a general officer, five of which were in combat, including roles as commander of U.S. and international military forces in Afghanistan, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and commanding general of the multi-national force in Iraq during the surge.

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