The United States isn't ending the endless war in Afghanistan by pulling its troops out, but only its involvement in that war and the absence of American troops and NATO forces will likely be felt in years to come when extremists once again move in, retired Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday.
"I fear that a couple of years from now we will look back and we are going to remember that whenever there are ungoverned spaces in the Muslim world, extremists fill them," the former CIA director said on Fox News' "America's Newsroom."
The former CIA director whose four-star assignments include serving as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and as the 10th commander of U.S. Central Command, and as the commander of forces, said it's important to remember that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan.
"The training of attackers was conducted in a sanctuary that Al Qaeda enjoyed when the Taliban ruled the country," said Petraeus. "We should expect that they will try to recreate such sanctuaries if the Taliban is able to extend their sway over more of Afghanistan."
The withdrawal of the remaining 3,500 or so troops from Afghanistan is expected to be finished by as early as mid-July, even after President Joe Biden, while announcing the drawdown, has given a deadline of Sept. 11 for the troops to be out.
U.S. officials say the Taliban's reaction to the withdrawal could make it more difficult to pull troops and others out of Afghanistan. Currently, there are between 25,000 and 30,000 people who must leave the country in the upcoming months, including all U.S. military forces and contractors, NATO forces, and contractors from other countries, also known as third-country nationals.
"I know the Central Command commander and others are working very hard together with the intelligence community to ensure that we have the capability to identify the reemergence of sanctuaries by Al Qaeda in the Islamic state," said Petraeus.
"However, Afghanistan remains a long way from the Gulf states where the bulk of U.S. assets are being kept," he added.
"Even from an aircraft carrier parked off southern Pakistan or if we're able to get a base perhaps in Uzbekistan, we won't be able to fly our armed aircraft from it most likely," said Petraeus.
Meanwhile, Petraeus said he realizes it was a tough decision to make about pulling out troops, but he does think Afghanistan is "in for difficult times."
He added that the United States should have learned from the past 20 years of war with Islamist extremists that ungoverned spaces in the Middle East will be exploited.
"The U.S. needs to lead with a coalition that includes Muslim countries, but you have to have a sustained commitment," said Petreaus. "This is not the fight of a decade much less a few years, it is a generational struggle. The question is how efficient and effective can you get [from] a very small number of forces?"
Further, Afghan security forces have been fighting and dying for their country in substantial numbers for years, said Petraeus.
"We have been providing advice and assistance and enablers but we haven't had a battle loss in the last year, perhaps in part because of the deal with the Taliban where they are getting, by the way, just about all that they want without giving much in return if anything at all," said the retired general. "We are leaving. That's their biggest goal."
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