Retired U.N. Diplomat in Northern Michigan Addresses Afghanistan Crisis
“Now the question is how bad will the Taliban be? They’re not going to be good.” - Jack Segal
Jack Segal was a Senior Political Advisor to NATO in Afghanistan, from 2002 until 2010. He contributed to providing strategic assessments of the country for NATO and for President Obama. “I made 40 trips there beginning in 2002 when I was working at NATO.”
Segal says in the months after 9/11, America and our allies were welcomed by the Afghan people. “In 2002 right after the victory of the allied forces with the Afghan Northern Alliance forces, they had control of the country. So the agenda became to have an election.” It was, at first, successful. “We were welcome. We were seen as liberators. So it was a positive experience for the Afghans. But the expectation was that we would stay most indefinitely and we would run the country, not other Afghans.”
But Segal says conditions in Afghanistan began to deteriorate by 2004. “It began to deteriorate and we began to puzzle over, ‘what are we trying to do there, really?’ And that is a question that has never really been adequately answered.”
At that time, roughly 7,000 U.S. troops were in the country, and that number eventually grew to a peak of 140,000, according to Segal. Meanwhile questions grew about whether the Taliban ever really disappeared. “The Taliban is not a military organization so much, as a guerilla group that seeks to impose strict Sharia law, strict Muslim law based on the holy Qur’an and strictly based on that. Your laws written by lawyers and judges are irrelevant.”
But over 20 years the situation in Afghanistan had improved. “There’s a whole generation of young Afghans who have grown up with a somewhat democratic government, definitely with progress being made in the infrastructure in the country and the education system. And they had reason to feel optimistic about their future,” Segal says.
Segal adds that more than 100 organizations also came to the country, for what he calls the social agenda. “We were trying to promote a different way of living… We want girls to be able to go to school. We want women to be able to move freely.”
America’s plan was for an orderly draw-down of U.S. troop levels, to fully leave the country by May of this year. That got pushed back to September 11th. Meanwhile the Taliban have been advancing and pushing forward on Kabul. “The withdrawal should have taken effect immediately. It should have started immediately. It did for the military… we were doing that part of it, and ignoring the civilian side.” Segal says that has been a failure. “You don’t leave tens of thousands of people, which is where we are now.
“When we saw the collapse underway we should have acted a lot faster. And I think the administration of President Biden has a lot to answer for that.” Segal says some of our allies have taken a different approach. “By contrast, the Germans ran into the same obstacles of how to get the paperwork, etc. The foreign minister yesterday – of Germany – said, ‘forget the paperwork. Get the people on airplanes and we’ll sort them out when they get to Germany.’ Simple solution, quick.” Segal believes criticism of the administration is warranted. “I’m disappointed and they seem to be in a state of denial… still not grasping the situation clearly.” He adds, “We’re in a desperate situation and we have a lot of people to get out.”
And he says comparisons to the fall of Saigon are also fair – when diplomats had to be evacuated from embassy rooftops. “Yeah there are comparisons. Eventually we had to leave because we were losing that war. And we have lost this war. We, meaning NATO. There were many other allies involved, thousands of other troops. Besides Americans. 10,000 British. About 7,000 Germans. And 40 other countries involved… That proved to be problematic because each country had its own idea of what to do in Afghanistan.”
Now U.S. troop levels are at about 5,000 – which is actually increasing over the past week due to the need for evacuations. But the Taliban have surged and are claiming victory in Kabul, and the fallout remains to be seen. “The Taliban were violent and dangerous and extreme. And they claim they’re no longer that way,” Segal says. Updated: The U.S. military is sending another battalion of about 1,000 troops to help safeguard the Kabul airport. That’s according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby late Monday afternoon. The troops will join about 6,000 other U.S. forces being sent to try to calm a chaotic evacuation from the airport.
Almost 20 years after 9/11, one question is whether Afghanistan will go right back to where it was. “Now the question is how bad will the Taliban be? They’re not going to be good.” Segal believes “it’s going to be very ugly and I think a lot of people are going to be murdered by the Taliban in Sharia courts because they supported us. And I don’t see that we can stop that.”
And there are political ramifications that also lie ahead. “Your first problem is, ‘are we going to recognize the Taliban overthrow as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?’” Segal adds, “That may require people to fight. And another Civil War may be the next step.”
The Associated Press breaks down the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan.