Retired officer General David Petraeus blasted a “serious miscalculation” for the withdrawal from the war-ravaged country
A former NATO commander today warned a “human catastrophe” looms after the West’s chaotic pullout from Afghanistan.
Retired four-star US General David Petraeus told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee he predicted the Taliban’s march across the war-ravaged nation that supposedly took the UK and US by surprise.
“I feared that what did happen would actually happen … I publicly said that I feared a psychological collapse of the Afghan security forces – and, of course, that’s what did transpire,” he told MPs.
“It’s very hard to say this result is anything but heartbreaking, tragic and, in many respects, disastrous.
“I don’t know how you can see the Taliban replacing a government – however imperfect, however frustrating, however maddening, however corrupt, however much there was political nepotism, you name it – but seeing it replaced by a regime, an ultra-conservative, Islamist government that seems intent on taking the country back to a seventh century interpretation of Islam … then of course the human catastrophe that is looming in Afghanistan is going to be one which will require the world to take action.”
Gen Petraeus, who commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2010-11 and was director of the US Central Intelligence Agency from 2011-12, warned the “prospects for the Afghan people are very, very bleak indeed”.
Gen Petraeus was speaking after leaked diplomatic cables from the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, cast doubt on then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab ’s claims over the pace of the Taliban’s return to power, as extremists overran the country in August.
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Ministers and senior UK military officers believed the capital Kabul would not fall to the insurgents for months.
But, in messages seen by the Times newspaper, Sir Laurie said on June 28 that the Taliban seemed to be gearing up to seize cities.
A cable to London said: “It is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US air power.
“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.
“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”
Gen Petraeus told the committee today: “What were we thinking to have all the military out?
“Clearly it was based on an assumption that the Afghans were going to continue to prevail, certainly well beyond Kabul, for quite an extended period of time.
“Obviously that was a serious miscalculation.”
US President Joe Biden ordered the US military to abandon Bagram air base on July 2 – paving the way for the Taliban’s victory.
Gen Petraeus pointed to the flight of “hundreds of thousands” of Afghans from their homeland as the Taliban tightens its grip on power.
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He warned of the impact on neighbouring countries as people fled the “humanitarian catastrophe”.
“The logical recipient of the refugee flow is going to be Pakistan – and 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,” he said.
“Tragically, Afghans are already sufficiently desperate and they are going to get even more so as food stuffs and humanitarian assistance and so forth come up short.”
A total of 457 British troops died in Afghanistan following the 2001, US-led invasion, after then US President George Bush launched the “War on Terror” following the September 11 terror attacks on America.