LONDON: The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan will not mark the end of Taliban violence and will result in a situation that must be “managed” to avoid full-scale conflict, senior US and UK military figures have warned.
Retired US Gen. David Petraeus and Sir John Scarlett, a senior UK intelligence official, questioned the withdrawal process and raised concerns over the resulting long-term implications in an interview with Wilson Center President, Director and CEO Mark Green.
It comes ahead of the September withdrawal deadline that came as a result of long-term negotiations, including the landmark Doha agreement last year.
But Petraeus warned that a withdrawal would not result in long-term peace: “The big lesson of the past 20 years is that if you withdraw and declare victory and go home, they will be back.
“So instead, what you have to do, especially in cases where you can’t ‘win,’ where victory is not possible, you have to manage it. And the way to manage it is to get to the smallest, most affordable — in terms of blood and treasure — presence and capability that we can possibly design,” he said.
“We could have achieved the objective that we were staying in Afghanistan to accomplish, which is to prevent Al-Qaeda, and then more recently, Daesh, from establishing sanctuaries on Afghan soil under this very Islamist regime, the Taliban,” he continued.
Scarlett also questioned the withdrawal, arguing that a better option would have been to maintain a “modest” military presence in the war-torn country.
He said: “There was another path. There has been a modest troop presence there over the last year, but they weren’t actively engaged in fighting … they were actually providing support.
“And so it isn’t necessarily, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ It’s whether or not we were willing to maintain a modest presence there to help continue to build capacity and manage risks.”
He added that the withdrawal — which also includes NATO allies — was primarily a US decision, and that questions remain over how it was reached.
Scarlett said: “In a way, it’s been expected, because it’s been the policy to withdraw as part of the negotiated agreement with the Taliban, under the previous administration, but there’s clearly — particularly in Afghanistan, but also really across Europe — quite a degree of surprise.
“There will be tens of thousands of refugees going into Pakistan and possibly into central Asian states. I’m afraid Pakistan will wonder about US sustainability and commitment in the medium-to longer-term.
“There’s obviously an issue of credibility here, not just for the US, but also for the allies,” he concluded.