Mark KeltonFormer Deputy Director of the CIA, Counterintelligence, National Secret Service
coding brief expert Mark Kelton He is a retired senior CIA executive with 34 years of experience in intelligence operations. Prior to his retirement, he served as the CIA’s Deputy Director of Counterintelligence. He is a partner in the FiveEyes Group and is Chairman of the Board of Spookstock, a charity that benefits from the CIA Memorial Foundation, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and the Defense Intelligence Memorial Foundation..
Expert’s perspective The speech given by Winston Churchill on 4 June 1940 in which he pledged that he and his countrymen would “fight on the shores” and “never surrender” in the face of the seemingly inevitable Nazi invasion, which is rightly known to be perhaps the most famous speech in history at the time the war. Leader. However, the new prime minister’s cautionary tone in the same appearance before the House of Commons is less well known, as he sought to mitigate the joy and relief caused by the British army’s seemingly wresting from the shores of Dunkirk. Churchill warned that “we must be very careful not to give this rescue the hallmarks of victory.” “Wars,” he warned, “are not won by evacuations.”
Shortly before the 2011 Abbottabad operation that killed Osama bin Laden, HQ asked me for my views on launching an attack on the target we know as Abbottabad Complex 1, (AC1) since we weren’t sure it was harboring the terrorist leader. After expressing my 95% confidence that the al-Qaeda leader was indeed there, I figuratively added that we should strike because “you can’t leave Hitler in his bunker and end the war.” Fortunately, I was right in my estimation that the killer of many innocents was present inside AC1. Unfortunately, his death did not end our war with radical Islamic terrorism. As was the case after Dunkirk, our enemy was unwilling to leave the field or restrict its unlimited war aims.
Likewise, we should not expect the withdrawal of our forces from the Afghan theater of combat to signal the end of the conflict with the terrorists who started that war by attacking us on September 11, 2001. Nor can we unilaterally declare the end of the war on terror by leaving Afghanistan – however we wish. For the very simple reason that our enemies do not share this desire with us. As former Defense Minister Leon E. Panetta said, “I understand that we are trying to get our forces out of there, but the bottom line is that we can leave the battlefield, but we cannot leave the war on terror, which continues to be a threat to our security.”
The Taliban’s parade of American-made weapons and equipment for their defeated enemies was, in a manner similar to that of ancient Rome, and not only intended to celebrate victory. It was also meant to humiliate the vanquished. Such triumphant demonstrations – and what would be a harrowing 9/11 celebration as their own holiday following – would provoke an enthusiastic response from Islamic extremists and attract many new adherents to the cause at the heart of the Taliban’s legitimacy. belief.
As was the case when we left Iraq and later had to return to the region to crush the ISIS caliphate that spread in the wake of our departure, there is a high probability that the success of the Taliban will breathe new life into the extremist Islamist groups. And there is no reason to believe that the “new” and now heavily armed Taliban – an organization that refused to break with al-Qaeda during a brutal twenty-year battle – would be any less receptive to working with Islamist terrorist groups. of their ancestors before 9/11.
“We will have to maintain very intense levels of indicators, warnings, monitoring and ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance] The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley in a recent interview, said the entire region is to monitor potential terrorist threats,” adding that it would not be easy.
As CIA Director William Burns said during Senate testimony in April, “Our ability to keep (the threat) … under control in Afghanistan whether from al-Qaeda or ISIS … has benefited greatly from having militaries. The United States and the coalition are on the ground and are fueled by the intelligence provided by the CIA and our other intelligence partners.” With the withdrawal of the US military, Burns said, “the US government’s ability to collect and act upon threats will diminish.”
Much intelligence gathering “over the horizon” against targets of Afghan terrorism will not fill the void left by the loss of our ability to monitor and attack terrorist targets from bases within the country. With countries bordering Afghanistan unlikely to be willing to host a significant US presence, intelligence-gathering missions will now have to be launched from bases beyond the horizon with all that it implies in the quantity, quality and timeliness of the information collected. These operations will also be commensurately more expensive and more difficult to perform. Moreover, the intimate knowledge of our adversaries that we have painstakingly built up over nearly 20 years on Earth, began to age from the moment we left Afghanistan. In the absence of an intelligence presence on the ground, our ability to gather information on terrorist groups operating in and from that country will deteriorate further over time.
After acknowledging that we “could see terrorism return outside the region within the next 12-36 months,” Milley continued, “As the same opportunities arise…we must continue to carry out strike operations if there is a threat to the United States of America.” However, as our experience before 9/11 showed, such remote strikes can delay the plans of our terrorist enemies, but they will not deter them from their intention to strike the United States.
As such, Secretary Panetta is undoubtedly correct in concluding that the US involvement in Afghanistan is far from over. “We will have to go back to defeat ISIS,” Panetta said. “Probably we will have to go back when Al Qaeda revives itself, as they do, with this Taliban.” And as was the case with our operations to destroy the so-called ISIS caliphate after we left Iraq with urgency, there is no doubt that if we were to return to Afghanistan, our task would be greatly complicated by the way we left. That country, abandon our allies and bases there.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will have profound geostrategic repercussions on America’s position in the region and in the world. Our Chinese, Russian, and Iranian adversaries will seize the opportunity to fill the void left in the wake of our departure.
The Taliban have already indicated that they will deal with China, which covets Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. Entering a transactional relationship with the cash-strapped Taliban regime and granting access to Afghan mineral resources – and possibly the use of Bagram Air Base – in return for financial aid and Chinese support for the Taliban in international organizations would be a good fit for Beijing, which would not substantiate concerns about human rights and the like. .
For their part, Central Asian nations will look away from Washington and toward their old masters in Moscow and a rising China to ensure their own security and economic well-being. As Islamabad publicly celebrates the victory of its Taliban proxies and their role in directing it, it should simultaneously worry that the extremism embodied by the victors will gain renewed momentum beyond its border provinces with all that Pakistan’s state security implies. .
Surprised by Washington’s decision to withdraw and the course of the withdrawal, even our closest and oldest allies question US resolve. They will certainly think twice before accepting any future US application to join joint operations. Our decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, and its chaotic execution, will also raise questions about the validity of American guarantees to other nations under threat from aggressors. They will not lose sight of the fact that the withdrawal of US air power, intelligence, planning expertise, and logistical support led to the collapse of the Afghan army, which was dependent on the United States.
Our adversaries will also see the chaotic nature of our departure as well as the abandonment of Americans, allied citizens, and Afghans to an uncertain fate as signs of weakness and vulnerability. This prospect is particularly dangerous because they can seize this moment of distraction from the United States to engage in an opportunistic adventure that could include China’s move against Taiwan; a Russian attempt to resolve its impasse with Ukraine by force; Escalation of Iranian pursuit of its proxy war with Israel; Or North Korea ramping up its nuclear program. Any such eventuality would force the United States to respond forcefully or risk further eroding its international credibility.
Finally, the costs involved in remote monitoring and trying to deter threats emanating from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan mean that we will not be able to divert intelligence and military resources away from the war on terror to counter the threat posed by our peer competitors. was hoping.
Aristotle is said to have said, “You will do nothing in this world without courage. It is the best quality of mind after honor.” Likewise, the courage shown by so many — and the heroic behavior of the US military and CIA personnel in particular — in seeking to get American citizens out of Afghanistan and fulfilling our obligations to Afghans who have worked and fought alongside us for so long, is unavoidable. Shame accompanies leaving many behind. The Taliban’s bloody attacks and reprisals against the latter are a certainty.
It wouldn’t be long before Kabul’s new rulers realized that the Americans, now under their control, might be useful pawns in trying to extract diplomatic, financial and other concessions in exchange for their freedom. The effectiveness of our later efforts to extract our Afghan people and allies from the clutches of the Taliban, and how we respond to any attempts to use them as leverage against us, will determine the depth of the stain on our national honor that has already afflicted us. The disastrous end of our Afghan campaign.
In the same famous speech, Churchill solemnly told his countrymen that: “The Battle of France is over: the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” “It is better that we block our loins for the continuation of the war,” he added.
We are approaching 20NS In remembrance of 9/11, we must honor our holy dead on that terrible day. But we must likewise prepare ourselves for the battles that will surely come with Al Qaeda and its murderous clan of Cain.
Recent polls He would indicate that the Americans supported the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, if not the way it was done. One wonders how the respondents would have responded if the question was “Do you support withdrawal from Afghanistan even if it significantly increases the chance of terrorist attacks and atrocities directed against your citizens at home and abroad?” I’m afraid we’ll find out soon enough.
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