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Old 08-20-2021, 01:10 PM
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Angry David Petraeus on American Mistakes in Afghanistan

David Petraeus on American Mistakes in Afghanistan
By: Isaac Chotiner - The New Yorker News - 08-20-21
Re: https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and...in-afghanistan

The former general defends Afghan troops and blames the speed of the withdrawal for the governmentís collapse.

David Petraeus, the retired four-star Army general, served in the military for nearly four decades, eventually becoming the most famous and revered member of the armed forces during the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Known for developing a new theory of counter-insurgency, which emphasized winning the support of civilians rather than seizing territory, Petraeus was placed in charge of all troops in Iraq by President George W. Bush in 2007 and oversaw the so-called surge of forces meant to turn around a faltering war effort. In 2010, President Barack Obama, who had ordered a surge of troops in Afghanistanóa move opposed by then Vice-President Joe Bidenóappointed General Petraeus the commander of forces in that country. Petraeus retired from the military the following year, and went on to serve as Obamaís C.I.A. director. He resigned from that post in 2012, after providing classified information to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an affair. Petraeus later pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling classified information. He is now a partner in the global investment firm K.K.R. and chairman of the K.K.R. Global Institute.

On Wednesday, Petraeus and I talked by phone about the situation in Afghanistan. We spoke for nearly eighty minutes; Petraeus was passionate about how he felt the Biden Administration had erred in the withdrawal, and why he thought it was wrong to blame Afghan forces for the collapse of the government. He believes the U.S. should have remained in Afghanistan, and gave a full-throated defense of an active military presence abroad. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, is below.

How do you think the situation in Afghanistan ended up where it is today?

It started with the Trump Administration, and not getting much of an agreement [with the Taliban], to put it mildly. We forced the Afghan government, which was not allowed to be in the negotiations about the future of their country, to release more than five thousand Taliban fighters, and didnít get anything significant in return. And of course the new Administration came in and did a quick review and analysis and announced the decision to withdraw, which you may recall that at the time I said I feared we would come to regret. And I think we already have. That was a psychological blow, I think, the significance of which may not have been obvious to all.

Then you actually had the withdrawal. And this was not of forces in frontline combat. What we had were advise-and-assist units, who were located in the headquarters of the Afghan forces, and they include essentially liaison teams and tactical air controllers who canówith the aid of drones over the top of battlefieldsóconfirm the targeting necessary for true close air support. We are not talking about bombing the mountain over there. We are talking about bombing as close to troops in combat as was possible. And that was quite an elaborate structure, and it was enormously important to the Afghans, who still had a very modest-sized air force. But if you donít have the liaison teams with the Afghan headquarters who are sitting next to an Afghan commander who is getting radio reports from his people and often looking at the same feed of what a Reaper drone is seeing underneath it, it is really hard to bring serious airpower to bear.

So you have the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which includes not just the airpower but the systems and people who enable its use in close air support. And, somewhat overlooked, although some of us did identify this months ago, the departure of some eighteen thousand contractors who maintain the U.S.-provided Afghan air force and also manage the maintenance system. It is a huge system that involves supply chains and regular inspectionsóa lot of very sophisticated diagnostic equipment, tools, and this enormous logistic support structure to provide these spare parts in a very austere environment. And of course they are also being shot up by the Taliban.

That air force worked very, very hard. And they are trying to ferry commandos who are really quite good fighters, very well trained by our Special Ops, and well equipped. And they did go out in these early battles, and they were holding off the Taliban, but I think at a certain point in time they realized that there was nobody coming to the rescue anymore, nobody has our back, there is no emergency resupply, there are no reinforcements, there is no emergency medical evacuation, and there is no close air support. And I think that happened in a couple of cases, and those troops did what I think troops do in those circumstances, if they are left alone and isolated and no one is coming to the rescue. Along with local leaders of those districts or provinces, they either cut a deal or they negotiate a surrender or they flee. And then I think the psychological collapse of the Afghan military set in. And I think that was infectious. You talk about infectious enthusiasm. This was an epidemic of, basically, surrender.

Was there an error somewhere along the way, given that when we pulled out this collapse just happened? How did we not prepare for that in twenty years?

I just think it was premature to leave. Now, you can say, Well, when do you leave? Ideally you say that there are certain conditions. Letís keep in mind that everyone is criticizing nation-building. Well, part of nation-building is developing security forces. It is developing institutions that can take over tasks that we were provided. Undoubtedly, there were innumerable mistakes made in the name of nation-building and infrastructure overbuilt. You can name the different shortcomings. But, again, you have to build something you can hand off. Keep in mind that, once we topple the Taliban, we own the country. Itís easy to say, ďYou got Osama Bin Laden. What are you hanging around for?Ē Well, because Al Qaeda will be back. If there is one thing we should have learned in the last twenty years of war, itís that if you donít keep an eye on an Islamist extremist group, it will come back.

You think thatís the main lesson?

Well, there are a lot of lessons. There are actually five lessons from the last twenty years of war, if you want to hear them.

Yes, please.

The first is that Islamist extremists will exploit ungoverned spaces, or spaces governed by kindred spirits in the Muslim world. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when and how it will be.

Sorry, General, there is some wind.

I was walking. The sign I am really serious about this, and giving someone my best attention, is that you walk the dog instead of doing it in front of a screen. Lesson No. 2 is that you actually have to do something about this problem itself. You canít study it until it goes away. We did that for a time with respect to the Islamic State in Syria, and it wasnít until they had generated enormous combat power, swept back into Iraq, established the caliphate in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, carried out activities on social media to galvanize and instigate terrorist attacks. You have to do something, because what happens there doesnít stay there. Itís not Las Vegas rules. Itís the opposite. And these situations tend to have violence, extremism, instability, and, most significantly in the case of Syria, a tsunami of refugees in our nato allies, causing the biggest domestic political challenges since the end of the Cold War.

No. 3, in doing something, the U.S. generally has to lead, and that is because we have such an enormous preponderance of military capabilitiesóin particular when it comes to the assets that are the most useful in the way we have been able to fight in recent years, which is by advising, assisting, and enabling host nationsí forces with the armada of drones we now have, and an unequal ability to fuse intelligence. Now, that doesnít mean that we shouldnít have a coalition. We should. And letís remember we did in Afghanistan. And you should have Muslim partners with you, as we did. By the way, the validation of No. 3, that the U.S. had to lead, is that, when the United States departed Afghanistan, the coalition countries all departed as well, even though many if not most wanted to stay. We know the U.K. wanted to stay. You saw people in the U.K. Parliament say, ďWe canít do anything independently?Ē The answer unfortunately is probably not.

You are giving rules and saying why they are important, but, when someone asks why the things you say were necessary didnít happen in Afghanistan in twenty years, how do you understand the answer?

Itís really complicated and complex! And you donít take a seventh-century, ultra-fundamentalist, theocratic Islamist regime, now it would be an emirate, and turn it into a modern military power. You can say the Taliban did that, but they had bases in Pakistan, and that is something you cannot forget. Thatís why, when I was nominated to be the commander in Afghanistan and, subsequent to that, I said we would not be able to accomplish in Afghanistan what we did in the surge in Iraq, which was seemingly miraculous to some people, but we believed we could do it. We knew we could do it. And we got that. I laid this out to [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld in September, 2005, when, on my way home from Iraq, he asked me to come to Afghanistan. And the first slide in the briefing was ďAfghanistan does not equal Iraq.Ē And it laid out all the differences, all of which made Afghanistan the most challenging context in which to fight an insurgency. No. 1, the insurgent headquarters are outside the country, and the Pakistanis refused to deal with them. Beyond that, the country has very limited roads and other infrastructure. So, every time we increased bases, they had no money. By the way, the Taliban is about to experience this.

In any event, we were up to No. 3, which is that the United States, in taking action against Islamist extremists, has to lead. The fourth lesson is that, if you want to really deal with the problem, you canít counter terrorists like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State with just counterterrorist forces. You have to have something that is more comprehensive. You need all those elements, but we donít want to do that.

ďWeĒ the American people?

The American military and State Department. The American government wants the Iraqis to do the fighting on the front lines. We want the Somalis and Somali surrogate forces to. So we are up to No. 4. But the key there is that you have to have a comprehensive approach, but we donít want to be doing the frontline fighting, we donít want to have to do the political reconciliation we brokered in Iraq, we donít want to have to do the restoration of basic services, reŽstablishment of local institutions, repair of infrastructure, et cetera. We want local forces and local governments to do that.

No. 5 is, the reason that we need those host-nation forces to do that fighting on the front lines is that we have to have a sustainable approach. And sustainability is measured in terms of the expenditure of our blood and treasure. And, if you can get that down sufficiently, you donít see people demonstrating in the streets in the way we saw in the final five or more years of the Vietnam War. And that means determining how to help host-nation forces without having to put our troops on the front lines, except in extremis. But we can maintain a very considerable number of unblinking eyes around the world with Reapers [armed drones]. In any event, every unit has a drone nowadays, and they are all helpful, but the Reaper is the coin of the realm. You can never have enough of those.

You are putting forward the need for a sustained effort at every levelómilitary, political, financialó

But very sustainable. We have drawn down in Afghanistan from a hundred and fifty thousand coalition forces that I was privileged to command at the height of the war to below twelve thousand. But letís not forget who has been doing the vast majority of the fighting and dying on the battlefield in Afghanistan, which is why I found the comments about the Afghan forces not fighting disappointing. Anybody who served in Afghanistan knows a number of Afghans who died on the battlefield, which is something like twenty-seven times the number of U.S. losses. So to say that the Afghans wonít fight for their country needs an asterisk. And it should say the Afghans will fight for their country if they are confident someone has their back and will provide reinforcements of ammunition, food, medical supplies, will provide emergency medical evaluation, and, most important, will provide close air support to get them out of a tough fight. Keep in mind, again, that the Taliban could mass anywhere on what were some isolated outposts.

And I did voice concerns months ago. And I was told the operational tempo of the Afghan air force, and it was totally unsustainable. I am not sure we could have sustained the tempo at which they were flying. And they were getting shot up. There were a lot of heroic Afghan pilots and air crews. We were a really critical component of the Afghan Security Forces that just could not be replicated. And Afghanistan had so many disadvantages, no history of strong central government.

Do you think that political or military leaders are to blame for people feeling like this had gone on too long? The Afghanistan Papers showed that there were false promises of how things were going, and claims that the training of Afghan forces was going better than it was. Was that a problem, and is it part of the issue with getting Americans to accept such a long war?

All I can say is that I stand absolutely by everything that I stated publicly, and what I stated privatelyóby the way, most of which has been published in Hillary Clinton, Leon Panettaís, and Barack Obamaís memoirs. I canít go back and say whether General So-and-So was overly rosy here or whether President Obama, by changing the name of the operation, was, I donít know, making more of something than was substantively well-founded.

Look, again, clearly there were tons of mistakes made along the way. Letís focus on the most important one, which I happen to have said publicly, which was that we didnít even get the inputs right in Afghanistan until late 2010. Thatís not because I happened to be the commander. It was because of, first, the Bush Administration toward the end, and then the Obama Administration with the first additional tranche of troops from the policy review, and it took a good year or so to deploy those troops. We didnít have the organizational architecture right. You have to get the right people, the preparation of the people and the units, the right equipment, certain communications gear, blimps with optics, towers with optics.

But of course we only had the inputs right for about seven months, because Obama announced the withdrawal date to begin the redeployment of those forces during the speech in which he announced the buildup. If [the former special representative Richard] Holbrooke is trying to negotiate from a position of strength, telling the enemy you are going to start withdrawing in July of 2011 probably is not providing him that position of strength. Obviously there are impatient leaders and rotations and all the rest of that, but this is really hard government work.

Now, there were enormous accomplishments. It is painful to say we didnít accomplish anything. There are twenty yearsí worth of Afghan girls and women who got to go to school. My wife and I funded a scholarship at the American University of Afghanistan, which, by the way, was attacked by the Taliban, with dozens of people killed. I remember talking to one of those women wounded, and she said, ďGeneral, I will die to get an education.Ē There are all these inspirational stories like that. So, again, they have twenty years of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, particularly in the big cities. Itís different out in the rural areas, to be sure. However imperfect the Afghan government was, however corrupt, whatever shortcomings we had, they will look back on it as a golden age. The economy in Kabul was bustling. We see them paint over the wedding-gown shops and the hair salons. I donít equate that necessarily with, well, it is progress. They were allowed to do that, is the point. There were freedoms that will not now exist.

Now, we didnít go there to give them those freedoms. It is where the 9/11 attacks were planned. To keep Al Qaeda from making it a sanctuary, and to gradually draw down, you had to develop security forces to whom you could transition tasks while keeping the capabilities that kept them in the fight in the tough times. You have to hand off to something. And keep in mind that, in the early years, we were the something. In northern Iraq, I was the sheikh of the strongest tribe in Iraq as a two-star general. And, under the Geneva Conventions, I was the executive, legislative, and judicial all in one, by international law. So how do you get yourself out of that? You do what we did in Iraq. We ran an election. Or, rather, a selection or caucus in Mosul. And all of a sudden we had Iraqis to help carry the rucksack of all these responsibilities.

So itís easy to disparage, and, again, did we go overboard? Iím sure. But part of it was, you are constantly under the gun. I went to Iraq knowing that within a year I would have to begin drawing down. So youíve gotta produce results. And that leads you to say, ďO.K., letís give it a shot. Letís try this.Ē And perhaps with a longer time horizon, and I am not saying less resources necessarily, although what we have or had was sort of what Biden advocated [in 2009].

So more resources and more time?

Yeah. And time is actually the most important resource. In Afghanistan there was all this impatience that it was our longest war and all the rest of that, overlooking the fact that we have been in Korea, which still is technicallyóobviously people arenít being shot and killedóbut we have way more than thirty thousand troops there and in Japan.

If you knew that this would end after twenty years, do you think policymakers should have acted differently?

We needed to do what we did, by and large. Did we do more in many cases? Perhaps. Certainly the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

We did too much, you are saying?

Overbuilt. This kind of stuff. Threw resources at problems. You have them now and you are not going to have them a year from now, if you see what I mean. There were even cases where we went too far with our troops. It took us too long to realize that we went too far with some of our troops. Some of these valleys, the people there didnít like the Taliban, but they hated everybody. They didnít want us in there or others in there. You had to learn how far you can go.

What would you do differently if you knew you had to come out in 2021? Boy, it is really hard to say. You would like to build an Afghan air force that is more substantial. But nothing is easy. You teach somebody how to teach English and be an air-traffic controller and you know what they do? Instead of working for the Afghan government, they go work as a translator for the United Nations because they get paid more. It is one challenge after another, and you have to work your way through it. You have to have enormous fortitude and determination. Somebody asked me if we lost the Afghan war. I said I donít think we lost it. I think we withdrew from it. And I think there is a pretty big distinction there.

In ďA Fish Called Wanda,Ē Kevin Kline says about Vietnam that ďWe didnít lose. It was a tie.Ē

[Laughs.] This wasnít a tie. Not when they take over within weeks of your departure.

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Personal note: I want to make my point perfectly clear! IF YOU GO TO WAR AND FIGHT LIKE HELL FOR 20+ YEARS (AKA VIET NAM) AND CONSIDER IT A DRAW -IS NUTS! as per Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's reply in WW2! - NUTS!).
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If you're going in to fight a war - fight like hell and get the hell out! The word draw is not in my vocabulary in foreign wars. VN was bad enough - but to repeat this fight against a band of ragheads - once more is uncacheable. Two so called conflicts - and to have them end up as a draw! That's pretty damn bad.
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These foreign wars of attrition has to end. When we go in to some area clean it up - send that Nation a bill - and get hell out of there! The sacrifice's of our military men and women are not to be taken lightly! We are proud Nation (at least we used to be) and also to have the other's NATO guys sitting on their asses doing jack shit - while we take the hits. I know its not exactly what happened - but it sure feels the same as NAM. Go in and eliminate them! These do overs are not profitable - nor are they impressive!
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Boats
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Boats

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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