The United States and allies are rushing to evacuate as many people from Afghanistan as possible until an August 31 deadline amid worsening security.
105,000 people have been evacuated so far since August 14, the day before the Taliban takeover, according to the White House.
The situation is deteriorating as two explosions hit Kabul airport by the ISIS faction in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 170 people – among them 13 US military personnel. More than 120 people were wounded.
In an exclusive interview with Georgian First Channel, Ben Hodges, a retired United States Army officer who served as commanding general, United States Army Europe, reviewed the three key mistakes made by the US.
“Number one, I think the biggest mistake, of course, was when the US and our allies went into Afghanistan and then after less than two years we started an invasion in Iraq, and it had nothing to do with 9/11. So the Bush Administration get distracted from the original reason to go to Afghanistan and instead focused energy, resources, and efforts on Iraq. I think that was a fatal mistake. We were right on the cusp of achieving what we wanted in Afghanistan and we could have been gone after two years. It would not be elegant, but we would have been out of there by 2004,” Hodges underscored.
Not obtaining a strategy that fully addressed Pakistan seems the second big mistake for Hodges. He says the US deluded itself as it turned out that Pakistan never was an ally.
“There are people in the Administration and various in Pentagon, others that believed Pakistan was an ally or could be an ally and if we just would spend enough money and did enough with them, that they would deny safe haven, and they keep their nuclear weapons on their control, that’s what we were worried about. So the strategy ended up being focused on Afghanistan and did not address Pakistan or the broader region, and of course, we know the day we deluded ourselves, Pakistan never was an ally, safe haven for the Taliban, well-known, and of course, when Osama bin Laden was killed, he was killed in his large home just down the street from the military academy of Pakistan, so the Taliban was in fact was an arm of ISI which is a Pakistani Intelligence Service. I consider myself part of the problem. I worked on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I was a director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination Cell. I was responsible for the Joint Chiefs of Staff or helping to coordinate policy for the region. I think I didn’t do enough to push to have Pakistan more included in the strategy. And maybe even worse, I didn’t realize that there were experts on Pakistan who had dissenting views or views contrary to the U.S. Administration’s narrative and those views were suppressed. That was a mistake,” the Retired US Army General stated.
The design of the Afghan Security Forces is the third big mistake for Hodges as it did not fit the Afghans. He thinks instead of the western model, the US had to elaborate a more harmonized design with the Afghan culture and the Afghan society.
“The third mistake I think we made is the design of the Afghan Security Forces. We worked very hard and spent a lot of money to try to build the Afghan Security Forces that could protect the Afghan people. The problem is that the model that we used was a western model. They looked like us. The model for the Security Forces that we should use is one that is more harmonized with the Afghan culture and the Afghan society, something that looks like the Taliban. And I did not believe what I was seeing. The most effective Afghan units, those who were in Pickup trucks did not have boots, did not have helmets, they could move as quickly as the Taliban and they knew where to go. I was part of this, I believed it could work, I was overly optimistic and it turns out I was wrong, the design that we used was not the one in harmony with the Afghan culture. When today senior people say that they were surprised and didn’t anticipate that the Afghanistan army and the government collapsed so fast. I think they are telling the truth. They really were surprised, even though there were reports and indicators out there. In fact, years ago we were seeing reports of corruption, but there was a reluctance to believe them or take them seriously because this was contrary to the political narrative. This was the case under multiply administrations – Obama, Trump, Biden. The narrative was, that we gonna help Afghans to stand on their feet, Afghan Security Forces will defend them and we will get out of Afghanistan. Things that were counter to that, either were not believed in or were suppressed,” the Retired US Army General stated.