Leon Panetta: The Afghanistan war lessons that we cannot forget


And for the previous 20 years, America fought again — with its troops, diplomats, intelligence and growth professionals working tirelessly to make sure that Afghanistan would by no means once more be used as a protected haven to assault our homeland. The US has had successes in Afghanistan, together with the institution of a democratic government, expanded rights for women, improved education, and profitable operations to decimate core Al Qaeda and convey Osama Bin Laden to justice. And America has suffered losses, with greater than 2,200 of its struggle fighters killed in motion, seven CIA officers killed by a suicide bomber in 2010, and countless civilian deaths in an extended and irritating struggle.
President Joe Biden determined to bring America’s troops home by the tip of August. At the identical time, the President has additionally made clear that we are going to not take our eye off the terrorist risk. The drawback, nonetheless, is that the scenario is deteriorating quickly: our nation’s navy commander in Afghanistan has warned of an imminent civil war; the newest intelligence evaluation makes clear that when US troops depart, the Taliban may take management of Afghanistan in six to 12 months; and the Taliban is moving quickly to seize numerous rural districts and threaten the capital Kabul.
The Taliban can’t be trusted on the subject of terrorism. It is as much as the United States to make it possible for Afghanistan doesn’t collapse and turn into a base of operations for terrorists once more. Already in latest weeks we’ve seen mindless deaths by the hands of the Taliban, with the killing of 22 members of an Afghan Special Forces unit.

The reality is that the President has a big selection of navy, diplomatic and intelligence sources that may be deployed to help Afghanistan at this vital time:

1. Meaningful help to Afghan Security Forces

The US and its NATO Allies ought to proceed to fund and train the Afghan safety forces. Yes, this has been an ongoing — and infrequently irritating — effort for a few years, however finally, growing an efficient navy requires sustained academic, monetary and safety help.

Every time I went to Afghanistan, navy commanders expressed confidence that the Afghan navy may do the job — the consensus was clear: “These guys are fighting and fighting tough.” But absent US help, the navy will battle towards a motivated Taliban.

2. Continue Counter Terrorism Operations

Taliban fighters execute 22 Afghan commandos as they try to surrender

There will probably be instances when the US navy could have to be extra instantly concerned with the over-the-horizon strike capabilities — together with the flexibility to hit targets with air-to-ground munitions, sea-based surface-to-surface missiles, and if essential, a raid on explicit terrorist targets by US Special Operations Forces.

While some US forces will remain in the region after drawing down in Afghanistan, its diplomats ought to work to ascertain new or expanded basing agreements with regional companions. These bases may host remotely-piloted MQ-9 Predator UAVs and different dependable surveillance property to supply situational consciousness and to allow fast response forces to deploy when US pursuits are at imminent danger. US commanders will want the flexibility to name in strikes from these UAVs and different close by air and sea-based property, like F-16s, F-18s, and Tomahawk missiles, to take out terrorist infrastructure as nicely. As with elsewhere across the globe, America’s cyber forces will even stay a invaluable device to gather intelligence and disrupt enemy command-and-control.

3. Maintain Intelligence Networks

The means of US nationwide safety professionals to grasp the scenario in Kabul and past will proceed to depend on long-established human intelligence networks. The US should search inventive methods to keep up and develop these relationships as US authorities posture on the bottom evolves. America’s intelligence professionals have been the primary into Afghanistan after 9/11, and so they should stay lengthy after our troops depart.

4. A Strong Diplomatic Presence

Underlying this work will probably be an essential ingredient of the Biden administration’s nationwide safety staff, the diplomatic corps. As Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has made clear, the US will stay invested in Afghanistan to assist help peace and reconciliation, in addition to to supply financial and humanitarian help to assist the Afghan folks. It can also be essential that the US continues to assist strengthen Afghanistan’s civilian authorities capability, not simply its navy. Core to this must be coaching its legislation enforcement and judicial officers to make them more practical and guarantee they’ve correct coaching on rule of legislation.

5. Protect Those Who Fought With Our Forces

Finally, we should not overlook the thousands of courageous Afghans who risked their lives to assist US safety forces and diplomats over the previous twenty years. Much as with those that helped the US after we withdrew troops from Vietnam within the Nineteen Seventies, and Kosovo and Iraq within the Nineties, the Afghans who served aspect by aspect with Americans deserve expedited visa consideration and different settlement help as they search refuge from attainable Taliban retribution. It’s not solely the best factor to do morally, nevertheless it additionally sends companions around the globe the message that when you’re there for America, America will probably be there for you.

I spent 4 years of my profession as Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA, working intensely on parts of the struggle in Afghanistan, starting from operations, to personnel, to coverage. I commanded the operation to deliver Osama Bin Laden to justice. I perceive the explanations Biden made his determination — the objective of stopping terrorist threats towards the American homeland stays the vital goal, and we will obtain that goal with a mixture of the on-the-ground and over-the-horizon capabilities to stop Al Qaeda from reestablishing a protected haven there.

But there are classes from this struggle that can not be forgotten. The President understands the significance of sustaining our help for the Afghan folks, to allow them to stay in a pluralistic, democratic society that respects the rights of all its residents, particularly girls. And he additionally understands that it was the Taliban that offered a protected haven for Al Qaeda to plan and execute the 9/11 assault. Surely, we owe it to the victims and households of that assault and all those that fought and died within the wars that adopted to make it possible for one other 9/11 assault by no means occurs once more.

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