Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sat down with Anderson Cooper on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, where Gates described being physically ill upon seeing the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan back in August.
“It was really tough. For a few days there, I actually wasn’t feeling very well. And I realized, it was because of what was happening in kabul. And I was just so low about the way it had ended,” Gates said. “The other feeling that I had was that it probably did not need to have turned out that way.”
When it comes to who is to blame for the chaos surrounding the withdrawal, Gates said there is plenty of blame to go around, including both the current and former presidents.
“Certainly the military considers withdrawal the most dangerous part of an operation. But they really had a lot of time to plan. Beginning with the deal that President Trump cut with the Taliban. So that was in February of 2020,” Gates said. “Once president Biden reaffirmed that there was going to be a firm deadline date, that’s the point at which I think they should have begun bringing those people out.”
Gates, who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2011, blames himself in part for not properly building up the Afghan military over the years, making things too sophisticated and logistical, similar to the US military but very different from the Taliban. But he said that, ultimately, mismanagement of the timeline and not anticipating the fall-out were the biggest mistakes.
“You’d have to be pretty naïve not to assume things were going to go downhill once that withdrawal was complete,” Gates said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks Trump and Biden share responsibility.
While Gates, who’s always considered himself a republican, has been on the same page with Biden over the years when it comes to dealings with other foreign powers like Russia and China, he said they’ve never seen eye-to-eye on Afghanistan. When asked point-blank by Cooper if he thinks Biden made a mistake in Afghanistan, Gates said, “Yes.”
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