Former White House adviser Richard Clarke said that there is a “high probability” that President Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 will result in the collapse of the Afghan government and a takeover of that country by the Taliban.
“It’s a very courageous move and it’s not going to be politically great for him,” Clarke said in an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “There’s a high probability that government will fall and we’ll have perhaps the scene that we had when the government in Saigon fell and there was that famous iconic image of the helicopter on the top of the roof of the U.S. Embassy taking off with the last people in it. That could happen.”
Clarke’s comments are particularly noteworthy since he served as the top White House counterterrorism official under President Bill Clinton when the Taliban government in Kabul first began providing safe haven for al-Qaida. He then briefly served in the same position under President George W. Bush, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Clarke had initially urged U.S. military intervention in that country to expel al-Qaida during Clinton’s presidency and then later backed the U.S. invasion ordered by Bush.
But he believes that the American mission in that country changed into something very different than he had envisioned.
“What I had in mind,” Clarke said, is “you go in there, you clean out the camps because al-Qaida had military bases. You find the camps, you find the units, you destroy them. You can try to find and kill as many of the leaders as possible. You destroy their infrastructure. Then leave, or withdraw to the area controlled by the Northern Alliance” — the northern-based tribal forces that were fighting al-Qaida at the time. “But the notion of staying there and running the cities and running the roads, connecting the cities, and trying to create and prop up a government, that was an overreach.”
Clarke gave Biden credit for biting the bullet and doing something his predecessors didn’t. “He did it because he thought it was the right thing. He did it because somebody eventually had to do it,” Clarke said. “And he said, Hey, look, past presidents have passed on this. And there was an implied criticism, I think, of his old boss, Obama, and certainly a little bit of Trump, that no one had the courage to say the emperor has no clothes, that there’s no way we can make this work.”
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But Clarke added that the consequences of withdrawal could be “potentially awful.” He added: “there could be images on our TV screens, whether it’s a year from now or two years from now, of a lot of Afghan people who put their faith and trust in the United States getting killed or getting imprisoned, or particularly for women, getting thrown back into the 14th century. All the gains that the society achieved could be lost. And that will be terrible.
“But the question that Biden had to face is what is the cost of continuing to prop up that Kabul regime with U.S. military forces?” And, Clarke said, “at the end of the day, I think you have to ask yourself, is this something that you could ever do that anybody could ever do?
“Americans tend to believe that all problems can be solved. And I think when you’re dealing with places like Afghanistan, you’ve got to have a different mindset. Alexander the Great couldn’t do it. The British Army couldn’t do it. The Red Army couldn’t do it. It is conceivable that nobody can, right? That Afghanistan is essentially ungovernable.”
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