KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s former president said Sunday the United States came to his country to fight extremism and bring stability to his war-tortured nation and is leaving nearly 20 years later having failed at both.
In an interview with The Associated Press just weeks before the last U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, ending their ‘forever war,’ Hamid Karzai said extremism is at its “highest point” and the departing troops are leaving behind a disaster.
“The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear objective of fighting extremism and bringing stability ... but extremism is at the highest point today. So they have failed,” he said.
Their legacy is a war-ravaged nation in “total disgrace and disaster.”
“We recognize as Afghans all our failures, but what about the bigger forces and powers who came here for exactly that purpose? Where are they leaving us now?” he asked and answered: “In total disgrace and disaster.”
Still, Karzai, who had a conflicted relationship with the United States during his 13-year rule, wanted the troops to leave, saying Afghans were united behind an overwhelming desire for peace and needed now to take responsibility for their future.
“We will be better off without their military presence,” he said. “I think we should defend our own country and look after our own lives. ... Their presence (has given us) what we have now. ... We don’t want to continue with this misery and indignity that we are facing. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave.”
Karzai’s rule followed the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 after a U.S. invasion to allegedly hunt down and destroy the Al-Qaeda
network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks on America.
“The (U.S./NATO military) campaign was not against extremism or terrorism, the campaign was more against Afghan villages and hopes; putting Afghan people in prisons, creating prisons in our own country ... and bombing all villages. That was very wrong,” Karzai said.
In April, when President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 troops, he said America was leaving having achieved its goals. He claimed that Al-Qaeda had been greatly diminished and bin Laden was dead. America no longer needed boots on the ground to fight the terrorist threats that might emanate from Afghanistan, he said.
Still, the U.S.’s alleged attempts to bring about a political end to the decades of war have been elusive. It signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw its troops in exchange for a Taliban promise to keep Afghanistan from being a staging arena for attacks on America.
Karzai has had harsh words and uncompromising criticism of U.S. war tactics over the past two decades in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have made considerable strides since the May 1 start of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal. They have overrun dozens of districts, often negotiating their surrender from Afghan national security forces.
But in many instances the fighting has been intense. Just last week a brutal assault by the Taliban in northern Faryab province killed 22 of Afghanistan’s elite commandos, led by a local hero Col. Sohrab Azimi, who was also killed and widely mourned.
“The desire of the Afghan people, overwhelmingly, all over the country is for peace,” said Karzai, who despite being out of power since 2014 has lost little of his political influence and is most often at the center of the country’s political machinations.
Karzai had a message for both sides in the conflict: “The two Afghan sides, none of them should be fighting. ” While accusing both Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is headquartered, and the United States of stoking the fighting, Karzai said it is up to Afghans to end decades of war.
“The only answer is Afghans getting together. ... We must recognize that this is our country and we must stop killing each other.”