McMaster on Afghanistan carnage: 'What we saw today is just the beginning'

Former Trump administration national security adviser H.R. McMaster called on President Biden to “reverse course” in the aftermath of Thursday’s terrorist bombings in Kabul, urging him to scrap his deadline for pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, cut off dealings with the Taliban and launch a new war on terror against jihadi networks throughout Central Asia.

“What we saw today is just the beginning,” McMaster said in an interview with Yahoo News about the deadly attacks in Kabul. “We are going to see horrible image after horrible image. … We’re going to confront the steady drumbeat of horrors inflicted on the Afghan people. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to give a damn? Or is this going to be like Rwanda?” He was referring to the genocide in 1994, when ethnic extremists slaughtered 800,000 people in Rwanda.

McMaster’s comments came as Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed two explosions on Thursday. Kirby described one of the blasts as a “complex attack” outside the Abbey Gate near the Kabul airport that reportedly killed “a number of U.S. service members” and as many as 60 Afghans, including some children, and injured more than 143 people.

Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies from a pickup truck outside a hospital after two powerful explosions killed at least six people outside the airport in Kabul on Thursday.
Volunteers and medical staff unload bodies from a pickup truck outside a hospital after two explosions in Kabul on Thursday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

The attacks prompted the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from the airport and leave the area “immediately” if they were by the gates. The blasts deal another setback to President Biden’s goal of evacuating all Americans from the country by his self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 for removing U.S. troops.

U.S. officials had been stating for days that they had specific, credible warnings of a potential terrorist attack on the airport by an Islamic State affiliate called ISIS-K. There has been no reported claim of responsibility for the Thursday explosions so far, but McMaster said in the interview that he suspects that the Haqqani network — a criminal and terror organization aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaida — played a role.

“I would not be surprised at all if ISIS-K — in fact, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t the case — is being used by the Haqqani network as a cutout to attack us and humiliate us on our way out,” he said.

Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, a leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, addresses a large congregation at the Pul-i-Khishti Mosque in Kabul, last Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.
Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, a leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, at the Pul-i-Khishti Mosque in Kabul on Aug. 20. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

Known for his hawkish views on foreign policy, McMaster portrayed Thursday’s attacks as a vindication for his sharp criticisms of Biden’s decision to pull out the troops by Aug. 31, as well as what he has called former President Donald Trump’s “surrender agreement” with the Taliban in February 2020, which paved the way for the U.S. withdrawal.

McMaster said he was not speaking as a partisan and that there was plenty of blame to go around among multiple U.S. presidents. But he was especially withering in his assessment of how Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conducted their negotiations with the Taliban. The president and secretary in effect decided, McMaster said, “Hey, we’re going to sit down with the Taliban and essentially negotiate our withdrawal. Afghan government, stay on the sidelines. What did that do for the legitimacy of the Afghan government? ... Then what did we do? We forced them to release 5,000 prisoners — for nothing.”

At this point, McMaster continued, “it’s time to reverse course.” He then called on Biden to scrap the troop withdrawal, extend the perimeter around the airport, create other safe areas in Afghanistan where civilians can be protected from the Taliban and even “engage” with anti-Taliban resistance groups that have begun fighting in the northern regions of the country.

Former national security adviser Herbert Raymond McMaster in March.
Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) (CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag)

More broadly, McMaster called for a renewed and more robust war on terrorism in the region.

“We have to redouble counterterrorism efforts broadly across the region, with Central Asian states,” he said, “in the areas of intelligence sharing and going after these groups quite aggressively — not just with military but with law enforcement capabilities, with financial actions — to isolate these groups from sources of support. We have to make clear that we will not tolerate American leaders advocating for recognition of the Taliban.”

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