Former U.S. Ambassador To Afghanistan Comments On Developing Situation In The Country

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Former U.S. Ambassador To Afghanistan Comments On Developing Situation In The Country


Ronald Neumann served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. He joins us now to talk about this moment. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

RONALD NEUMANN: Thank you. And let me just get off of my speakerphone, so you can hear me better. Yes, thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Yes, that’s helpful.


(Laughter) Thank you.

CORNISH: We just heard from a woman in Kabul, 29 years old, been enjoying civic life, who is now - in the coming days, could fear a knock on the door from the Taliban. Tell us your reaction as you watch the way the Biden administration is handling the evacuation of U.S. personnel.

NEUMANN: Well, the - I don’t know exactly what they’re doing on the evacuation of U.S. personnel, but clearly, events have continually outpaced decision-making in the Biden administration since first…

CORNISH: Well, the reason why I ask is because we’ve heard descriptions from Mike Pompeo and others who have called it panicked. Are you looking at a panicked White House?

NEUMANN: It may be. I don’t have enough detail to characterize it. But certainly, they have been reacting very quickly or having to react very quickly to a changing situation. I don’t know what is going on in Kabul right now. It sounds - I’m getting calls from Afghan friends and American citizens of Afghan heritage trying to find a way to get out and trying to help them. I don’t have good information on how they register for evacuation or how they get out. What we’ve been - I think there is a first issue of getting Americans out, where I am sure my colleagues in the embassy will do everything they can. I believe, frankly, that we should have been engaged militarily more to prevent the Taliban from coming into Kabul to give us more time, that - I don’t know what we’ve been doing militarily, but doesn’t sound like we’ve been very actively engaged that way. But - yep.

CORNISH: Can we talk about diplomacy then, given your experience? I think earlier this week, you called the peace agreement and that process - busted was the phrase that you used. We’re now hearing that the Taliban is trying to hammer out some sort of transfer of power. What are you going to be looking for in the coming days?

NEUMANN: Well, the Taliban are looking for a negotiated surrender, so they don’t have a bloody battle in Kabul - perfectly reasonable from their point of view. This has nothing to do with negotiating the kind of peace that we have talked about in the past that would protect women and free institutions, in any event. This is how you surrender with the least loss, which is the point to which the Afghan government has now been driven. But no, there’s no - we have no leverage with the Taliban to negotiate much of anything. We’ve serially given it all away.

CORNISH: So how worried are you about the future of the country’s democratic institutions, the ones that have been able to stand these last couple of years?

NEUMANN: I am very worried, not just about democratic institutions - I don’t know if you include in that things like civil society, free press, rights of women, journalists, journalism, efforts to build a better judicial system, although that was pretty hampered - but if you include all of those things, I think they will be up for grabs with the Taliban.

KEITH: The Biden administration has essentially indicated they don’t see this as all their fault. You know, this was two decades in the making. The Afghan military was trained by the U.S. and equipped. And in a way, it’s like President Biden does not want to own this. Do you think that that is possible?

NEUMANN: Short answer is no. The long answer is you need to distinguish between the decision to withdraw, which I didn’t like but is arguably correct, and the manner of implementation, of execution of that decision, which has been an absolute disaster from beginning to end. They could have taken more time. They had no plan how to support the Afghan military that they were leaving. We built an air force that depended on contractors for maintenance and pulled the contractors. Supply system - ditto. And we profoundly shocked the Afghan army and morale by pulling out and pulling our air cover when we trained them. So we have done one thing after another - or failed to do one thing after another which could have provided for a competent execution of a withdrawal policy in a measured way and given some chance, and we have not done it. And so I think this is a - you know, I think Biden owns a big piece of the disaster.

KEITH: Ronald Neumann served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. Thank you so much for joining us.

NEUMANN: You’re welcome. Bye-bye.

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Opinion: Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the US says Taliban advancement was avoidable

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Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen has reported from Afghanistan since 1993. His new book is, " The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden ." The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) Roya Rahmani is the first woman to serve as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, a position she held from 2018 until last month. Bergen spoke to her over the weekend about the fall of much of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Rahmani who is in the United States, says she worries that with the Taliban taking over, the civil wars that have wracked Afghanistan will continue. She is also concerned that the rights of Afghan women will disappear under their rule.

Rahmani was born in Kabul in 1978, a year before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, thrusting the country into a cycle of wars that has continued for more than four decades. Her family fled to neighboring Pakistan where she grew up as a refugee. Rahmani obtained a bachelor’s degree in software engineering at McGill University in Canada, and later a master’s in public administration from Columbia University. Before taking up her post as Afghan ambassador in Washington, DC, Rahmani was Afghanistan’s ambassador to Indonesia.

Bergen’s discussion with Rahmani was edited for clarity and length.

BERGEN: How do you feel right now?

RAHMANI: Distressed, worried. I am extremely concerned about what is to come, and I’m extremely worried for my family and my people back at home.

BERGEN: Do you think this was all avoidable, the situation we’re in today?

RAHMANI: Oh, yes. I mean, absolutely! Absolutely, it was avoidable. I don’t think at this point it matters who we should point our fingers to and who we should blame. It’s unfortunate that we are here, but we are here.

This is pointing to an immense failure of Afghan democracy. It points to the failure of diplomacy. It points to the failure of the international aid and assistance.

I think it puts into question all the sacrifices being made by Americans, by our allies, and multiplied by all the Afghans with so much blood, tears, and sweat that we all put into the past 20 years.

BERGEN: Were you surprised by how quickly the Taliban took over much of the country?

RAHMANI: No. I think many people in international community were taken by surprise, but I was aware of the deterioration of morale among our security forces, of the divisiveness of the politics back in Afghanistan. In many places, the Afghan security forces were not supported by Kabul.

BERGEN: Does this remind you of the summer of Iraq in 2014 when ISIS took over and the Iraqi Army didn’t fight?

RAHMANI: Yes, there are certain similarities. Number one, it was the same thing about how the Iraqi leadership ignored the reality of Iraq. They were not an inclusive government. And there was a lack of maturity about the way they conduced politics and military strategy.

BERGEN: There’s a message coming from the White House that President Joe Biden was right, that recent events demonstrate that the Afghan government and the Afghan Army are weak, and the fact that it’s all collapsed so quickly proves that he was correct.

RAHMANI: I do understand President Biden’s position because when he : I do understand President Biden’s position because when he says that if he did this in six months or one year instead of now, there wouldn’t be much of a difference, unfortunately, I agree with that. It wouldn’t be much different. Why? Because, unfortunately, the international community did not broker and enforce a settlement leading to the establishment of a new inclusive government in time, which could have been held together with the help of a peace-keeping mission.

BERGEN: But was it necessary to go to zero US troops in Afghanistan? Because, also, there’s 7,000 other NATO troops that have also left and 16,000 contractors. Was that necessary?

RAHMANI: Of course, that expedited the process of the Taliban takeover at the speed of light. There is no question about that.

BERGEN: You’re the first Ambassador from Afghanistan to the United States who is a woman. Do you think a Taliban-controlled government will be sending women ambassadors in the future?

RAHMANI: No. Based on what I know of them and their actions on the ground, I am afraid that the very basic rights of women are in line to be sacrificed.

BERGEN: Which rights are in danger?

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RAHMANI: Access to education, employment, even physical presence of women in the public sphere is not tolerated. I heard that one of the Taliban representatives in Herat was questioned about women working in the administration and in the judiciary, and he said “Oh, that would be a very difficult thing. Women could work only in education and the health care sector.”

So, this is the mentality. What the Taliban are going to offer to women is way below equal citizenship. There’s little reason to think anyone would have citizenship rights under the Taliban, based on previous experience. But even so, women will be treated as a “lower class,” deemed fit only for specific roles and nothing else.

Beijing in a bind with Lithuania action: expert

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Beijing in a bind with Lithuania action: expert

BOXED IN: Forcing ambassadors to return home could be the first loose thread to sever ties, possibly resulting in formal relations with Taipei, a researcher concluded

By Wu Su-wei and William Hetherington / Staff reporter, with staff writer

Beijing has put itself into an impossible position with its response to Lithuania allowing the establishment of a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius, a Taiwanese researcher said on Saturday.

China on Tuesday recalled its ambassador from Vilnius and demanded that the Lithuanian ambassador leave China after Lithuania agreed to the establishment of the office.

The move has left Beijing with no room to maneuver on the issue, Taiwan Thinktank consultant Lai I-chung (賴怡忠) said.

The Lithuanian flag flutters in Vilnius, Lithuania, on March 30, 2019. Photo: Reuters

Lithuania values its relationships with the US and other NATO countries, so worsening US-China relations had affected Lithuania’s attitude toward China, he said.

Lithuania in 2004 joined the EU and NATO, and was reminded of the threat of hostile states in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, he said.

Lithuania in 2016 also joined the NATO initiative Enhanced Forward Presence, which deployed multinational battalion groups to countries in central and northern Europe deemed to be most at risk of Russian attack or invasion.

The Taiwanese office that has been planned for Vilnius and the Lithuanian office planned for Taipei do not represent the establishment of formal relations between the two countries, Lai said.

“Other EU countries have had similar interactions with Taiwan in the past without issue,” he said.

“However, Beijing’s hatred for Taiwan’s current administration, as well as its concern that Lithuania and Taiwan might establish formal relations … pushed it to act this time,” he added.

Lai said that China exported 1.2 billion euros (US$1.42 billion) worth of goods to Lithuania last year, and imported 300 million euros of goods in return.

Given the relatively small amount of trade between the countries, economic sanctions would be ineffective, so Beijing opted to withdraw its ambassador instead, he said.

“Also demanding the expulsion of the Lithuanian ambassador was meant as a threat of potentially severed relations, but rather than be threatened, Lithuania might just resolve to establish formal ties with Taipei,” he said.

Lai said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in relations was China’s response to Lithuanians voicing support for Hong Kong protestors in 2019.

At the time, the Chinese ambassador in Vilnius lodged a protest with the Lithuanian government, which put Lithuanians on guard about the country’s relationship with China, he said.

“Lithuania is different from a country like Poland, which tries to bridge two superpowers,” Institute for National Defense and Security Research member Lee Chun-yi (李俊毅) said. “Lithuania is next to Russia and is aware of the threat it poses, so it closely aligns itself with Western Europe.”

“Lithuania is the front line for the West,” he added.

Lithuania’s history of annexation by the Soviet Union has shaped its opposition to authoritarian governments, he said.