General Joseph L. Votel (retired) Joined BENS in January 2020 as CEO and President. Prior to this, he had a 39-year military career, during which he was responsible for commanding special operations and conventional forces at all levels; finally he served as the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and was responsible for Military operations by the United States and coalition forces in the Middle East, the Levant, and Central and South Asia. General Votel’s career includes fighting in Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He led a 79-member coalition that successfully liberated Iraq and Syria from the Islamic State Caliphate. General Votel served as the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operations Command before he was appointed to the Central Command.
Password introduction: Have you ever thought that without American air support, the United States would withdraw so quickly or leave the Afghan army alone?
General voting: During my tenure, I did not anticipate this-but once the president sets a difficult departure date-then a quick exit is inevitable. When you face a clear departure date, no commander is willing to accept unnecessary risks from ground forces.
Password introduction: Intelligence assessment has seriously deviated from the rate of decline in Kabul. What factors have most directly contributed to this?
General voting: Of course, the deviation of our own capabilities is a large part of it; the lack of direct contact with the Afghan leader is another important factor; of course, once we are determined to leave (and take our commander)-we lose the right Priority and access to normal and reliable Afghan intelligence sources.
Password introduction: US personnel are facing a deteriorating security situation at Kabul Airport, while the US military is still deploying emergency operations. This is another sign that the government has underestimated the speed of the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul. The United States could have chosen to use air power to slow down the Taliban’s advancement. Why do you think it did not happen?
General voting: I think it is obvious that this is no longer a priority for our government. The task now, at least over the weekend, is about supporting the evacuation of diplomats and helping Afghans who assist the United States and meet the evacuation criteria to leave. Although I am not sure about this-I believe that what we are trying to do with over-the-horizon air support in a rapidly evolving situation is not optimal or too effective. It doesn’t seem to do much—if at all.
Password introduction: The United States allows military hardware, weapons, and technology provided by the United States to fall into the hands of the Taliban, and the Taliban are responsible for the deaths of American personnel and thousands of innocent Afghans. The US government requires private citizens and companies to bear much less responsibility for export violations involving dual-use technology or military equipment. How should Americans view this situation now? The Taliban will use equipment and be paid for by U.S. taxpayers, possibly committing acts of violence against U.S. interests and eroding the democratic values that the U.S. tries to introduce into Afghanistan?
General voting: Not sure about this. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have seen this situation-remember ISIS in Mosul in 2014? I suspect that these will be more trophies than hard military capabilities-except for small arms, mortars and artillery. In most cases, the Taliban will be difficult to maintain-in any case, they may prefer their own equipment.
Password introduction: There is a lot of anger in the national security community. What do you want to say to people who have suffered and may feel angry and outraged because of the US role in Afghanistan?
General voting: I can’t really comment on the anger of the national security community—I’m sure this emotion exists, but in my opinion the stronger emotion is disappointment. No one wants what we see now. I think most security professionals can accept the decision of the commander-in-chief to leave-this is completely within his power and everyone understands this; what is more difficult to accept is how this happened and how it happened . It is difficult for me to see the Taliban sitting at the conference table where I used to sit with the President of Afghanistan. I recently participated in some public events-people asked me if all this effort was wasted. My answer is consistent. U.S. military personnel, IC members, and diplomatic corps performed brilliantly throughout the war. When the country called for and did its best for our country, each other and the Afghan people, they responded. There will be plenty of time to blame—but the vast majority of Americans who participated in some aspects of the war in Afghanistan were noble and did their best. We should not ignore this. This is not as we all hoped-it is not their fault… I don’t want anyone (especially our wounded and the families of the victims) to think that these efforts are futile. I didn’t think so at the time, and I don’t think so now. When the country called, they answered.
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