Ex-CIA chief says chaotic Afghanistan exit is Joe Biden’s ‘Bay of Pigs’ moment

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta (Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta (Getty Images)
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The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is an international disaster for Joe Biden of the order of the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in the early 1960s, according to Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defence secretary during the Obama administration.

“In many ways, I think of John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs, you know?” Mr Panetta told CNN. “It unfolded quickly and the president thought that everything would be fine and that was not the case. But President Kennedy took responsibility for what took place, and I strongly recommend to President Biden that he take responsibility [and] admit the mistakes that were made.

“He’s got to make clear to the American people that as commander in chief, he is going to continue to protect our national security and that we are going to go after terrorists wherever the hell they are at,” Mr Panetta added in the interview. “He’s just got to ensure that the United States of America remains a strong world leader that can work with our allies to try to protect peace and prosperity. That’s the message he’s got to give the American people and the world, because our credibility right now is in question.”

Mr Biden, in a speech from the White House on Monday, admitted that the collapse came sooner than the US anticipated, but put the blame for the fall of Afghanistan on its own leaders and military, rather than the decades of American intervention in the country.

“I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you,” the president said. “The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated. So what’s happened? Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”

The US occupation of Afghanistan, however, differs in many ways from the Bay of Pigs, when a force of US-trained Cuban exiles were decimated by the Cuban military. Whereas then, the US was attempting to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Cuban government and failed, the US did succeed in toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan for a time, and occupied the country for the next two decades, during which time Mr Panetta played key roles in the war effort.

During his time as a top intelligence and defence official, Mr Panetta opposed sending a “surge” of extra troops to Afghanistan in 2010, though he later said the 33,000 extra troops the Obama administration sent to the country accomplished its mission of pushing back the Taliban and shoring up the Afghan state and armed forces.

Regardless of what the Afghanistan exit does for US credibility, the hurried evacuation of US personnel out of Kabul has all but shut down civil transportation out of the country, stranding thousands of Afghans seeking to flee the Taliban.

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