"Military Overrules Afghan Withdrawal"
Gareth Porter on the Military's Efforts to Subvert the Afghan Peace Deal
The Scott Horton Show (March 19, 2021)
(Downloaded audio of interview:
Gareth Porter talks about the U.S. military’s efforts to sabotage any attempt at leaving Afghanistan. The deal negotiated by the Trump administration made both the conditions and deadlines for withdrawal clear—but almost immediately, the military began claiming that the Taliban was somehow in violation of the agreement, and that America had to stay. Sadly very few people in power are willing to drastically change the situation in Afghanistan, and it looks increasingly likely that the Biden administration will simply try to stay the course.
Discussed on the show:
“How the US military subverted the Afghan peace agreement to prolong an unpopular war” (The Grayzone)
“Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says” (The New York Times)
“A Secret Accord With the Taliban: When and How the U.S. Would Leave Afghanistan” (The New York Times)
An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan
[13:58] Gareth Porter: "... so what the U.S. military was cleverly trying to do was to say that 'they're failing to carry out their commitment to their reduction in violence that they should have been carrying out.' And it was simply a completely dishonest effort to suggest that what they'd agreed to for those seven days was what they'd agreed to for the entire length of the implementation of the agreement. And I would say that that is probably the central lie and the central method of trying to sabotage this agreement that the military did carry out in those days."
[14:36] Scott Horton: "And, yet, that was a year ago. And Donald Trump could have fired his Secretary of Defense and fired his Secretary of State and whoever else is conspiring against him on this. He could have asked Zalmay Khalilzad: 'Is that really right? Is that the deal you agreed to? Or not?"
[14:51] Gareth Porter: "You're absolutely right." You know, there's no question that he was not following things carefully. Or he was just too stupid. Or too, for whatever reason, distracted, and paid no attention to what they were doing. Or they had whispered in his ear throughout this period: "OK. here's what we're doing and here's why we're doing it,' and he didn't have the wit or didn't have any advisers surrounding him or next to him to tell him, 'Mister President, they're lying to you.' So, in any case, he clearly was not equipped to do anything about what they were up to, to sabotage his agreement. And that's really yet another strike against his presidency, obviously."
[15:38] "So, the other one that I want to mention here is that the military and [Secretary] Esper claimed that this was a "conditions based" agreement. And this was an outrageous claim as one can imagine. It was the exact opposite of a conditions-based agreement, meaning --- what they meant by that was -- that 'We will decide whether the conditions are right or appropriate for the United States to withdraw.'Well, the actual agreement was the exact opposite of that.
[16:12] "The actual agreement was that you will withdraw a portion of your forces by May 1st of 2021. And, of course, what the military was trying to do was to get the American public to ignore what the reality was and to accept their totally outrageous lie about what was going on.
[16:43] "So, to my mind this is really one of the most far reaching plots by the U.S. military that I can recall to basically carry out to achieve their own interests at the expense of the actual policy of the U.S. government. And that deserves to be scrutinized by Congress. There should be hearings. Of course, there won't be. There should be hearings. There should be people who are still the top figures of the U.S. military who should be held accountable for this. This is something that is an indication of just how far we are from having a government that is accountable."
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[18:59] Scott Horton"Well, you go back and look at how much pressure they put on Obama to do the "surge" and how they tried to stop him from ending it. But I guess at the end of the day he said: 'No, we're sticking to the timeline' -- I guess he did extend a couple of months -- but he said 'No, we're getting out. The "surge" is over. Pull the troops out.' But they didn't stick to the deal to end the war in 2014, which is what he promised. But at least the military didn't dare just say 'No. We refuse to end the surge on your order Mr President. Or, we're just going to lie to you and pretend. And I guess with those kind of numbers there's not a way to get away with it. But you're right that this does seem to be a whole new level of manipulation. They're just absolutely insubordinate against a president telling them to go."
[19:53] Gareth Porter: "Yes. And of course, it was the compliant, lying U.S. news media that made this possible. They made no effort whatsoever to check, you know, when these statements were being made: 'Well, was that really true?' Had they spent five minutes to ask the question and follow up on the obvious answer, the story might have been different."
[20:14] Scott Horton: "They were too busy claiming that their secret annexes say that the Taliban say we can stay anyway, and too busy claiming that PUTIN is behind "bounties for American scalps" in Afghanistan. If we leave now, then we're doing what PUTIN wants. And that would be treason."
[20:35] Gareth Porter: "It was that summer that they plotted this whole story of Bountie-gate and completely withdrew any scrutiny -- well, there wasn't any scrutiny -- but if there had been any scrutiny, it would have been withdrawn completely and refocused on this ridiculous tale that mesmerized the media for weeks."
Scott Horton: "Which, by the way, I guess Trump really was saying that he wanted to go ahead and get out before the election. And they floated that trial baloon, and it was the Bounty story that shot that down, I think."
Gareth Porter: "I think that's right, yeah. Now the other side of that is that, even before the Bounty-gate story, the New York Times, true to its real role of helping the U.S. military to achieve its interests, created this story which, again, anticipated the Bounty-gate story and the fear that it would create, of the "secret annexes" quote-unquote to the peace agreement with the Taliban, because the Times was completely buying into the idea that there were, somehow, secret understandings between the U.S. military and the Taliban over what would the expectations be. Obviously they were hoping this would be applied to this whole question of what the Taliban would be expected to do or not do. And if you read the story carefully, what you find is that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any secret understanding between the two sides about the Taliban and what they would be expected to do militarily. On the contrary, the only thing they talk about is what the Taliban would do during the seven day reduction in violence."
[22:54] "So there's simply no evidence whatsoever in the story itself to support the idea but the headline, the lead, and the story itself managed somehow to support that theme that the military wanted to introduce to further confuse the public."
[23:18] Scott Horton: "It's interesting to me that you say that the accusations that the Taliban are still pal-ing around with Al Qaeda guys, is actually a minimal part of this. It seems that that would be the biggest part of the propaganda campaign, not that I'm saying it's true. I don't see any evidence at all that it is."
Gareth Porter: "I think they are making very little effort on that score. And, of course, the agreement has wording that is essentially that -- I don't have the words precisely in my head -- but the wording is that the Taliban will require, will not allow any foreign troops, foreign personnel to remain in Afghanistan or to be allowed to be within territory that they control."
[24:24] "Now the Taliban, as you probably know, have in fact in recent weeks issued an order to their troops that they are not allowed to harbor any foreign troops or "militants" -- I can't remember the exact wording -- but it's very clear that this is their way of making sure that nobody in the Taliban is going to do anything that could be construed as allowing Al Qaeda to stay in the territory that the Taliban controls. And it would be difficult for the military to make a case at this point that they're violating the agreement. It may not be what they would like. They may want something more than that, or they would like to have more than that, but it is going to be difficult for them to make that case. And I think that could be behind the fact that they haven't done more about it."
[25:25] Scott Horton: "You know, I remember back in 2009, Bruce Ridell who is sometimes is good on things, like Yemen for example, but he did one of the reviews on Afghanistan for the Obama government and he was saying, 'Yeah, well you've got Lashgar y Tabba, which is a Pakistani group focused on Kashmir, and -- I forgot -- you've got a couple of other ones, but essentially no one who has ever met Ayman al-Zawahiri at all, and it was essentially: The mission was Can you write a paragraph attempting to implicate the Taliban in international terrorism at all? See if you can do it. But is there really something to write about there? No, there's really not."
[26:12] Gareth Porter: "Scott, this is something, as you know, I've written about in the past. And, in fact, I did do a couple of stories back in 2009-2010, one of which detailed the evidence that the West Point specialist on "terrorism" [S.H.: the Counter Terrorism Center] gathered evidence to show that the Taliban had not been really close to Al Qaeda. They had allowed them to train their own troops during the war before they were defeated, but they had never been really close to or friendly to Osama bin Laden, and in fact Mullah Omar never got along with bin Laden at all. It was a very fraut relationship from beginning to end."
[27:26] "Furthermore, in the aftermath in 2009, the Taliban had very big differences on policy with Al Qaeda about Al Qaeda making war against the Pakistani government which, of course, was an ally of the Taliban. So they were not getting along at all, and there's more to that story, but in effect I think that you're quite right in saying that there's no basis for saying that the Taliban are in league with, or have been in league with, Al Qaeda."
Scott Horton: "But you know what they do. They say that the Al Qaeda guys are now embedded in the Haqqani network, and the Haqqanis are indistinguishable from Al Qaeda".
Gareth Porter: "Simply not true.
Scott Horton: "I don't see any reason to believe it, that's for sure. And you're right about Mullah Omar hating Bin Laden. As we know  went and met with Bin Laden in the summer of 2001, and said: 'This guy's like a chicken bone stuck in my throat. I can neither swallow him nor spit him out.' And we know also that Milt Beardon who had run the CIA's war in Afghanistan in the 1980s told the Washington Post that the Taliban tried to give him up over and over again. "He's out falconing and we can't find him." Which was not very subtle code that "He's out of our protection. Go ahead and drop a bomb on his head. And then we'll say 'Well, we would have protected him if he hadn't been out in the countryside somewhere where we couldn't find him.'"
[28:57] Gareth Porter: "That's right. It's a good point."
Scott Horton:"The Americans wouldn't take them up on that. In fact Michael Sheuer said Bill Clinton turned down ten different chances to kill Bin Laden. And I'm sure some great proportion of those were at the invitation of the Taliban. There's a great book about this by Coon and lynn Shoton called An Enemy We Created, which goes to show the depth of the split between these two groups and their ideologies and strategies and tactics and everything."
[29:28] Gareth Porter: "Right. But the other side of this picture which I haven't mentioned, didn't get to, very briefly is that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, and [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates got together with other confederates who were pushing for big increase in U.S. troop strength in 2009-2010 and basically pressured Obama by making it clear that if he didn't go along with this, they would accuse him of being soft on "terrorism." And, of course, they leaked an article to McClachey that made the case that the entire U.S. government was in agreement that if he didn't agree to this there was going to be a terrible danger of terrorism being given a chance to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. So that was a key to their whole strategy to get 40,000 men in addition to what they already had."
[31:26] Scott Horton: "So, we've got to talk about the other half of this article, but first we have to talk about the near term future. Biden, it looks almost certain, is going to break the deal. What do you expect the Taliban to do, Garreth?"
Gareth Porter: "Well, I think they'll up the pressure. I think we've seen over the months, there has been a retrogression back towards the situation before the agreement was reached.
Scott Horton: "And they've been bombing them over the past two or three days now."
Gareth Porter: "So I think we'll see continued military pressure by the Taliban, there will be some new efforts to make their case in a very symbolic and, basically, spectacular way, which they're very good at. They know how to play that game of making an impact through specific operations. So, I wouldn't be surprised if we had one of those in the near future."
[32:22] Scott Horton: "You know ... but it was either Dave DeCamp or Danny Davis who said, 'You know, if there's one thing that can really work in our favor for Biden to go ahead and get the hell out is that we made it 365 days without a U.S. GI getting killed over there. Not a marine. Not a green beret. Not anybody.' And Biden's really ready to reverse that now? Start this war again? Against these guys with whom we've essentially had a cease fire? With some exceptions, but we've had a cease fire with these guys for more than a year now. And he's going to do what? Send another 40,000 troops to back up the five?"
[33:07] Gareth Porter: "I'm not expecting the Taliban to go after U.S. troops specifically at this moment. I would be surprised if they did that ... "
Scott Horton: "In other words they can persuade them to leave by attacking Afghan forces? A latent threat there?"
Gareth Porter: "I think that they will continue to make their point that this war is unwinnable. And they will expect that there are going to be repercussions in the United States, which I think they're probably right about."
Scott Horton: "I hope that they're sophisticated enough to think about it like that, right? Like, you know what we could do, we could stage a big offensive against the locals but not against the Americans and, hopefully, that will persuade them [the U.S.] to get out the door. But they might not, right? They might just say 'You guys are breaking the deal, it's on' and go right back to war against our guys."
[34:00] Gareth Porter: "Well, it's possible they could do that. But, look. I think the Taliban are about as sophisticated a group of strategists as you are going to find. They have lots of nuances in their strategies. And they're capable of meshing their military operations and their diplomacy. I think they've shown that. So I would not take it for granted that they would simply react somehow in a fasion that would lack very careful strategic thinking."
[34:35] Scott Horton: "But then again, right, we are up against the point where their power compared to the power of the regime that America has installed in Kabul is essentially irresistible."
Gareth Porter: "They have the advantage and they're going to press it. That's what we're really talking about here, that they will continue to take advantage of the ways in which they can put pressure on the United States through their operations against the Kabul government
[35:08] Scott Horton: "Who's Douglas Macgregor?"
Gareth Porter: "Doug Macgregor is, by every account that I am aware of, the most brilliant military analyst and strategist in the United States, and has been for many years. And a really incredible speaker. A very persuasive speaker, as well. And he was hired by Trump in the aftermath of the election, several days after the election when he fired Esper and named this guy Miller to replace him as the acting Secretary. He immediately had Doug called and invited him to become the senior advisor to Miller for the specific purpose of primarily, first of all, more than anything else, of getting out of Afghanistan, because he [Trump] didn't know how to do it."
"And so Doug immediately -- and this is the other story we were talking about, of course -- Doug drafted a presidential order; told the White House Staff to get a presidential decision memorandum out of the files so that they would have the correct format for this. And it was typed up and put before the President. And he immediately signed it. Doug told me that he loved it. That Trump loved it. Although I didn't mention that, quote that in the story: [he] signed it and right after that met with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Miley, and we don't have all the details but we do know that Miley told him that 'You can't do this, Mr President, and for various reasons, including the fact that continuing to have a presence there has bipartisan support in the Congress.' And so, whatever was in his mind, we don't know exactly, but Trump caved in, once again, and agreed to pull out only half of 4,500 or 5,000 troops remaining."
Scott Horton: "This all happened while he's got his guy who he knows agrees with him as Secretary of Defense. And also Macgregor, the smartest and toughest guy on the East Coast."
Gareth Porter: "I know. And it's another light, a glaring light being shed on the character of Donald Trump. The guy was just a hopeless mess. What can you say? He doesn't have the strength of character to be able to carry out a plan.
[38:10] Scott Horton:"It would be better, almost, if he didn't even try to get us out of anywhere. He tried to get us out of Syria twice. And the Pentagon just told him: "no." Oh, and the Israelis. "They told him, 'No, You're not leaving Syria.' And he goes: 'OK.'
Gareth Porter: "What a mess. That's all you can say. Otherwise, speechless.
Scott Horton: "Man, that's really something. And this guy Miller was a green beret who'd fought in the initial war, when he should have been trying to catch Bin Laden he was up there with Colonel Mulholland fighting the Taliban up near Mazaar Shariff, whatever, while Bin Laden was getting away. But, anyway, if you need a couple of guys to stand and protect your right flank when you end a war, its Miller and Macgregor, as good as you're ever going to get.
Gareth Porter: "Yes, you would think so. It's a good basis for saying, 'No More. And very clearly, he could have gotten away with it. There's no doubt about it. He wouldn't have been impeached."
Scott Horton: "Or, he would have been impeached anyway.
[39:20] Gareth Porter: "It's just a remarkable feat of weakness on the part of Donald Trump.
Scott Horton: "And seriously, for anybody not familiar, just a few days ago, this week, Magregor was on the Tucker Carlson show. And Tucker Carlson goes "hawkish, hawkish, hawkish" on China. And Macgregor said, 'Nah. We can talk with China, Tucker. We don't have to worry about China. Yeah, they might be sailing their boats in the Bahamas but we've been sailing up and down the South China Sea. An the thing of it is that we don't have to do this, man. We could be friends.' And Tucker Carlson says, 'You know what, man, if you say so, Macgregor, I don't know. Every time you come on this show, I learn something.' And you can see his eybrows go up, or whatever, and Carlson, say what you will about him, he's one of the more intelligent TV hosts, and he respects this guy Macgregor. And if anybody is going to be able to talk a right-winger out of being a hawk on China, it's somebody who's tougher and possibly more conservative than them, somebody like the hero of The Great Tank Battle of 1991. The damage that could be done by this guy in a good way, if he had been used properly. And this goes to show, too, that Donald Trump would be the President right now if he had just hired Miller and Macgregor last summer. As soon as Esper started screwing him in terms of getting out of Afghanistan, he could have fired him then. He never had to hire all these generals in the first place. Certainly he could have brought these guys in last summer, ended a war or two or three and gotten re-elected."
[41:00] Gareth Porter: "It's possible, but I wouldn't bet on that. Because of Covid-19, we had a bigger issue here. "
Scott Horton: "The politics of it would have been that Biden and all of them would have had to attack Trump for being "irresponsible," and "hasty," and "precipitous" for getting us out of wars that are extremely unpopular. And that would have been not just good politics for the American people who, in general, agree, but it would have been devilishly Machiavellian hilariously evil politics for throwing a nuclear hand grenade into the Democratic Party, while Joe Biden is attacking Trump from the right for ending a war and two-thirds of the party stayed home in protest."
[41:49] Gareth Porter: "I bow to no one in my low esteem of the intelligence of Joe Biden, but I'm not sure he's so stupid as to do what you're suggesting."
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[43:26] Scott Horton:... "With these headlines about our ships in the Taiwan Straight, that is a cause for real concern. By the way, I'll just mention this, but I just interviewed Daniel Davis the great hero whistle-blower of the Afghan war. And I didn't have time to talk with him about his new piece on China. We were talking about Iraq War 3-and-a-half ..."