US Gen. John R. Allen, left, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, listens to US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, before a change of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan

Former Amb to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker: 'This is not a kinder and gentler Taliban'

Ryan Crocker, who spent 40 years in the foreign service and served as US ambassador to Afghanistan under President Barack Obama, discussed Biden's statement and the US' role in Afghanistan with The World's host Carol Hills.

The World

The Taliban, which is now in control of Afghanistan, held its first press conference on Tuesday, with the group's spokesperson declaring a general amnesty across the country. The takeover comes weeks before US and NATO forces were preparing to fully withdraw from the country by the end of August.

Related: Former warlord Ismail Khan led a militia against the Taliban. He spoke to The World days before Afghans lost the fight.

US President Joe Biden announced on Monday that he stands "squarely behind" his decision to exit Afghanistan. But, many with deep experience in the region are harshly critical of what the president did, and warn of blowback.

Related: 20 years of progress for Afghan women could disappear under Taliban rule

Ryan Crocker, who spent 40 years in the foreign service and served as US ambassador to Afghanistan under President Barack Obama, discussed Biden's statement and the US' role in Afghanistan with The World's host Carol Hills.

Carol Hills: How do you think people received President Biden's words?
Ryan Crocker: People around the world are watching what we do and what we say. They are saying, "Boy, do not partner up with the Americans, do not count on the Americans. They won't be there in the end and they will blame it all on you."
What do you make of the Taliban's announcement today of a nationwide amnesty and a call for women to join the government?
OK, they've said these pretty things. Let's see what happens on the ground. Let's see if they facilitate the evacuation of those who want to get out and not risk their lives under Taliban rule. The Taliban has all the agency here. We gave ours up. We gave it up to them. So, we don't really decide anything anymore of a security nature. They will decide what they want to do and we will have to react depending on what that is.
What is your reaction to Biden saying, "American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves"? Is that a fair assessment?
Carol, that is just appalling. Back when I was ambassador, once a week over at the international security force compound would be a brief memorial service to commemorate those who had died in the previous week. And, you know, it was a wrenching ceremony that would have always, sadly, some American troopers and a few others from other allies. Their names would be read and then the Afghan military representative would stand up. He didn't read any names. He gave a number: "123 last week, 165 this week," and so it went. So, for the president to say that this is on the Afghan security forces who refused to fight, they have been fighting and dying for their country in unbelievable numbers for more than a decade now. So, Mr. President, you use the phrase "the buck stops here." You tried to put that on the Afghan security forces. No, sir. The buck stops on your desk.
What specifically do you think President Biden could have done differently to avoid the crisis we're seeing right now?
He could have not taken a rush to the exit. Look, when I was in Kabul as ambassador in 2011, 2012, it was the peak of the surge. We were up to almost 100,000 troopers on the ground in Afghanistan. There was violence from the Taliban, but they didn't hold any provincial capitals. We steadily drew down our numbers, and then President Trump cut further. And what happened? Well, the Taliban still did not hold any provincial capitals. We were at a status quo point that was not great, but it was workable. There are some problems out there that can't be fixed, they have to be managed, and I would put Afghanistan into that category. We're not going to transform it into the shining city on the hill. But we could, and did, demonstrate that with a really minimal number of troops that were not directly involved in combat operations, that the Afghans could get by. The only thing that changed was the Biden decision. That is what pulled the plug on all of this. And then the way it was done has given us what we've seen, those awful images out of Kabul airport. So, bad policy decision, bad policy execution, he got both.
Do you think that President Biden should have involved the Afghan government? I mean, he continued the Trump policy of negotiating with only the Taliban.
That, of course, was the beginning of this extended train wreck. Caving into that long-standing Taliban demand meant that these were not, never would be, peace negotiations. They were surrender talks. And I was frankly stunned to see President Biden embrace that policy, embrace the Afghan envoy that President Trump had been using and actually pull the plug. I think of all the body blows the Afghan government and its security forces suffered, we administered the most powerful punches against them.
Ambassador Crocker, you were there in 2002, one of the US diplomats arriving in Kabul to reopen the shuttered US Embassy after the Taliban was routed. What was the mission from the get-go?
It was about ensuring America's security, to ensure that Afghan soil would never again be used to plan strikes into the United States of America itself. And, over a period of almost 20 years, I think we did a pretty good job on it. Now, all of that is at risk because of the president's decisions. What do I mean? Well, the Taliban is back, there they are, roaming the streets of all 34 provincial capitals, now. This is not a kinder and gentler Taliban. These guys are hardened, tough, ruthless. In other words, they're the guys that brought us 9/11 by sheltering al-Qaeda, and they're back. Al-Qaeda will be back with them. So, the president, sadly, has re-created the same environment we had just before 9/11. So, the president has really put the band back together. This particular band, of course, attacked our country.
At this point, is there anything the Biden administration can do to make the immediate situation in Afghanistan better? I mean, if you had the president's ear, what would you tell him to do right now, today?
I would tell him to do what, to give them credit, the administration is actually doing: bringing in aircraft, getting obviously our own folks out, but also getting out those tens of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to support our efforts. Just get people out. We're all full of recriminations. We're all pointing our fingers and everybody else. Yeah, that's going to go on, that's part of the process. But right now, it's about individual lives.
Ambassador Crocker, are you in touch with Afghans on the ground?
I am. And it is wrenching beyond description, Carol. Like many, many other Americans who served in Afghanistan, we are getting a lot of desperate messages. And it's just gut-wrenching to to read these text and emails that say, please don't forget me, the Taliban are here, they're going to kill me, please get me out. It's very, very painful.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.