The lesson taught by the bloody aftermath of America's precipitous withdrawal from Iraq might be lost on the Obama administration as it attempts a similar exit from Afghanistan, an Army general who served in both theaters told "MidPoint" guest host Ric Blackwell on Newsmax TV
With U.S.-led NATO combat operations in Afghanistan officially ended
this week, and a residual American force staying behind, the Islamic extremists who continue to destabilize the country after 13 years of fighting "will fill every gap that we leave on the battlefield," said retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger.
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And the gap will widen further as the number of troops falls by about half, to about 5,000, by the end of 2015 under President Barack Obama's announced timetable for drawing down forces, said Bolger, author of "Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars"
Bolger said that while the U.S. is in essence declaring the Afghanistan mission accomplished, "nobody's clued the Taliban into this."
"They're in effective control of large parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan today, so I don’t know about that draw-down," he said. "To me it seems ill-considered, and I hope that our administration or our military will rethink it in light of what’s happened in Iraq.
"We should’ve learned a lesson as to what happens if you pull out the bulk of your forces: The enemy will fill that gap," said Bolger.
Bolger said that the challenges he saw in Afghanistan remain for the U.S. troops who are staying behind to advise and assist Afghan forces defending a fledgeling democratic government.
"Afghanistan is a tough place to fight," he said. "The terrain is extreme. The weather is extreme: You’ve got very high mountains there and deserts in the west."
Moreover, the battlefield is a landlocked country whose air and communications lines pass through countries including Pakistan, Russia and Iran — "which are hardly our friends," said Bolger.
And the Taliban, by their standards, had a very good year.
"In 2014 they killed over 4,500 Afghan soldiers and police, which is a record number of losses," said Bolger. "When they mount that [annual military] offensive in the spring, our troops are going to be a long way from home in an isolated area. So it’s a very, very tough place to fight and we got to keep an eye on that."
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Bolger noted that on Tuesday the Taliban responded to NATO's departure by declaring victory.
"We laugh about that as Taliban propaganda," he said, "but they take it deadly seriously, and they recruit people in villages based on that."
Turning to the Islamic State, or ISIS, Bolger said that the win-loss count for Iraqi forces and Syrian fighters — backed by U.S. air strikes and advisory troops returned to the region — is inconclusive after several months of combat.
"With these guys, it's a matter of just staying engaged against them," said Bolger, noting that ISIS might be emboldened by past history.
"They and the people of Iraq have seen us engage there three times," he said. "This is the third time. They saw us pull out in '91, they saw us pull out in 2011, and most of them are waiting for us to pull out again. That's one of the things that gives ISIS its staying power."
Bolger praised the U.S. decision to send weaponry
and armor used in Afghanistan to Kuwait in preparation for more assaults on ISIS.
"It signals that we’re preparing for a long term in that area, and that is good," he said. "We cannot be foolish about the threats from that region."
Bolger said that 2014 also brought attention to another emerging front in modern warfare: cyberspace. He said that devastating computer hack on Sony Pictures is "a warning to what could happen if we don’t keep our guard up there.
"And I will tell you, we’re talking mainly about defense," he said, "but there’s offensive capabilities in cyber as well, and our country needs to work on those. We need to recruit the smartest young people we can get into our military and into our intelligence services and stay on guard both to defend and attack in this new realm of warfare."
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