Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, told NBC News the Taliban taking control of the country was "catastrophic."
The Taliban seized the capital city of Kabul on Sunday and declared control of Afghanistan amid the Biden administration's removal of U.S. troops from the country.
"I do think there were alternative approaches, options that we in fact should have considered. I've counseled those for many years," Petraeus told NBC News in an interview that aired Monday night.
"But we are where we are now, and I think what's most important at this moment in time is to realize that there are many that we have so far left behind. And we must do everything we can with all the resources available to us to ensure that we meet the moral obligation to them."
Petraeus, who also previously served as the director of the CIA and the commander of U.S. Central Command, said the situation in Afghanistan was "heartbreaking" and "tragic."
"The challenge always was whether you could fully withdraw," he said. "And as we have seen, the results of fully withdrawing can be quite catastrophic."
The general was asked if any other end results, besides the Taliban regaining control, had been possible.
"Certainly there was," Petraeus said. "There was a sustainable commitment that could have been pursued – 3,500 troops with a lot of drones and a lot of air power, and 8,500 coalition forces, and perhaps most importantly, the contractors still on the ground to keep the Afghan air force flying.
"I think that it was really the psychological effect of our announcement of the withdrawal, than the actual withdrawal, and then very significantly, the withdrawal of the contractors that kept the U.S. provided helicopters in the air and showed the Afghan soldiers on the ground that there would be someone coming to the rescue with resupplies, reinforcements, and indeed with close air support."
Petraeus said that the lack of such support resulted in Afghanistan soldiers giving up.
"Afghan soldiers died in huge numbers over the course of the past two decades," he said. "We were worried that they wouldn't be able to replace all those they lost. So the idea they would not fight for their country is something that is just not accurate."
Biden on Monday defended his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan, saying the U.S. completed its goals for entering Afghanistan — capturing the individuals behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, and ensuring that al-Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base going forward
"We did that. We severely degraded al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. We never gave up the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and we got him," Biden said, The Hill reported.
"That was a decade ago. Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
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