Former Prime Minister John Howard—who deployed Australian troops to Afghanistan in 2001 along with democratic allies—has questioned the need for the U.S. administration to withdraw all forces from the country immediately.
“There was no reason why a very much smaller force could not have been left there for an indeterminant time,” he told Sky News Australia.
“That would have prevented some of the negative images that have clearly come out of Afghanistan and could well have emboldened the Afghan army, provided it was supplemented by some air cover, to have provided some more resistance to the Taliban,” he added.
“I don’t think it was absolutely essential to withdraw every last soldier from Afghanistan.”
Howard was also critical of setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the previous administration, saying it gave away a key negotiating point.
“I think once the date is taken over. The date was driving the behaviour, instead of the behaviour resulting in a final outcome,” he added. “It was almost unavoidable that we saw what actually happened and the speed with which it occurred.”
The former prime minister also stood by his decision to commit Australian forces to join the U.S.-led coalition targeting al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the wake of 9/11, saying it was “totally justified.”
Howard’s comments come as his contemporary and former United Kingdom prime minister, Tony Blair, criticised the withdrawal.
“The world is now uncertain of where the West stands because it is so obvious that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in this way was driven not by grand strategy but by politics,” he wrote in an op-ed.
“We did it in the knowledge that though worse than imperfect, and though immensely fragile, there were real gains over the past 20 years. And for anyone who disputes that, read the heart-breaking laments from every section of Afghan society as to what they fear will now be lost.”
However, experts believe the United States could be pivoting its efforts to the Indo-Pacific region to counter Beijing’s growing influence and aggression.
“The United States is likely to strengthen security cooperation with Taiwan in retaliation against China, and it is also likely to consider increasing defence assistance to Taiwan,” Shen Ming-shih, associate professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, told The Epoch Times.
Afghanistan’s institutions, built up over the course of two decades during the U.S.-led occupation, gave way to the Taliban over the past few weeks, after the United States withdrew its forces from the country.
The capital Kabul, and the presidential palace, fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15.
Further, coordination of the withdrawal was problematic, with several thousand Americans, Australians, and allies still stranded in the country.
According to Army Major General William Taylor, around 5,800 U.S. troops remain at Kabul airport to maintain security.
Australian forces have airlifted over 1,000 people from the country as part of evacuation efforts.
Meanwhile, current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has convened an urgent G7 virtual meeting to discuss ways to prevent the situation in Afghanistan from deteriorating.