Former President George W. Bush on Wednesday offered fresh criticism of the withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, as the U.S.-backed government in Kabul appears increasingly imperiled and Taliban fighters continue to make rapid gains across the country.
Asked whether the drawdown was a mistake, Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in an interview: “I think it is, yeah. Because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad and sad.”
Bush, whose administration launched the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, specifically cited the plight of Afghan women and girls whom he said could “suffer unspeakable harm” at the hands of the Taliban, as well as the fate of thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters who aided U.S. and NATO forces throughout the two-decade war effort.
“It seems like they’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people,” Bush said. “And it breaks my heart.”
The remarks from the former president come as even senior Biden administration officials have acknowledged what Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby described as a “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan, where the Taliban claims to have overtaken 85 percent of the country’s territory.
Despite the escalation in the conflict, the U.S. marked one of the final phases of its drawdown on Monday with the departure of Gen. Scott Miller, the top general in Afghanistan who was among the last of the American forces on the ground.
After initially pledging a total withdrawal of U.S. troops by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Joe Biden announced last Thursday that the military mission in Afghanistan would conclude on Aug. 31.
In a speech from the White House, Biden denied that a Taliban takeover was inevitable, saying: “The likelihood that there’s going to be a Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
Biden also put the onus squarely on Afghan leadership and security forces to safeguard Kabul, assessing that “they clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is, will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?”
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