The former secretary of state voiced her disapproval publicly for the first time in an interview with CNN on Sunday as violence erupted immediately after the US formally launched its withdrawal of 2,500 troops and began handing control back to the Afghan government.
Asked by CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria what she thought of the withdrawal decision, Clinton said: ‘Well, it’s been made. And I know it is a very difficult decision.
‘This is what we call a wicked problem. You know there are consequences both foreseen and unintended of staying and of leaving. The president has made the decision to leave.’
Clinton said the US should be prepared for ‘two huge consequences’ – a collapse of the Afghan government and takeover by the Taliban, and a subsequent outpouring of refugees.
Her comments to CNN came two days after Axios reported that both she and Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under George W Bush, had voiced concerns with the withdrawal to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Hillary Clinton warned the US will face ‘huge consequences’ over President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in an interview with CNN on Sunday (pictured)
Clinton’s warning came a day after the US formally passed control of Camp Antonik in the southern Helmand province to Afghan forces on Saturday (pictured)
Explaining the two consequences she foresaw to CNN, Clinton said: ‘One, the potential collapse of the Afghan government and a takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, probably with a resumption of civil war in certain parts of the country, but a largely Taliban-run government at some point in the not-too-distant future.
‘How do we help and protect the many, many thousands of Afghans who worked with the United States and NATO, who worked with American and other NATO-connected contractors who stood up and spoke out for women’s rights and human rights.
‘I hope that the administration in concert with the Congress will have a very large visa program and will begin immediately to try to provide that channel for so many Afghans to utilize so that they are not left in danger.
‘There will also be, I fear, a huge refugee outflow. And of course the second big set of problems revolves around a resumption of activities by global terrorist groups, most particularly Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.’
She concluded: ‘It’s one thing to pull out troops that have been supporting security in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan military, leaving it pretty much to fend for itself, but we can’t afford to walk away from the consequences of that decision.’
Clinton’s fears appeared to be already coming into fruition as the Afghan defense ministry reported on Sunday that fighting between its forces and the Taliban had left more than 100 insurgents dead within 24 hours of the US officially beginning its withdrawal.
The ministry’s report came after the US passed control of the Camp Antonik in the southern Helmand province to Afghan forces with a ceremonial changing of flags that fly over the base.
Officials did not say how many Afghan soldiers had been hurt in clashes with the Taliban across several provinces.
A US soldier and an Afghan National Army soldier shaking hands during a handover ceremony at Camp Antonik in the Helmand province on Saturday
US soldiers take down the American flag at Camp Antonik during a handover ceremony
On Friday – a day before the withdrawal began – Clinton and Rice appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee via Zoom to air their concerns, sources familiar with the meeting told Axios.
‘A little disagreement on Afghanistan, but they both agreed we’re going to need to sustain a counterterrorism mission somehow outside of that country,’ one committee member told the outlet.
Condoleezza Rice (pictured) joined Clinton to voice concerns about the Afghanistan withdrawal in a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting last week
They quoted Rice as saying: ‘You know, we’re probably gonna have to go back [to Afghanistan].’
House Rep. Mike McCaul, a Republican from Texas, also told Axios: ‘With the potential for an Islamic State, coupled with what they’re going to do to our contractors in Yemen and Afghanistan is, sadly, it’s going to be tragic there and we all see it coming.’
Another member of the committee said that Clinton and Rice were concerned about what would happen to American diplomats on the ground after a troop withdrawal.
On April 14, Biden said he will withdraw remaining US troops from the ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, declaring that the September 11 terror attacks of 20 years ago cannot justify American forces still dying in the nation’s longest war.
His plan is to pull out all American forces – numbering 2,500 now – by this year’s anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.
Biden announced on April 14 that he would remove all remaining US forces from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks
Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, admitted on Tuesday that a civil war or Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is ‘certainly a possible scenario’ when the US withdraws all its troops from the country by September 11.
Blinken told CNN ‘s Jake Tapper the Biden administration is ‘planning for every scenario’ that could arise from the move.
But he insisted the US is ‘not disengaging from Afghanistan’ and will continue to be ‘deeply engaged’ in supporting the country long after troops have left.
Soon after Biden made his announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels said the alliance had agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 forces from Afghanistan, matching Biden’s decision to begin a final pullout by May 1.
The US cannot continue to pour resources into an intractable war and expect different results, Biden said.
The drawdown would begin rather than conclude by May 1, which has been the deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year.
‘It is time to end America’s longest war,’ Biden said, but he added that the US will ‘not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.’
‘We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,’ said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where Bush announced the start of the war.
‘I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.’
Biden’s announcement, which he followed with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, marks perhaps the most significant foreign policy decision in the early going of his presidency.
He’s long been skeptical about the US presence in Afghanistan.
As Obama’s vice president, Biden was a lonely voice in the administration who advised the 44th president to tilt towards a smaller counterterrorism role in the country while military advisers were urging a troop buildup to counter Taliban gains.
As secretary of state in the Obama administration, Clinton was more hawkish than both Obama and Biden.
In 2009, she supported a surge of 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan to counter gains made in the country by the Taliban.
Clinton was also a fierce supporter of regime change in Libya.
Rice was the chief foreign policy adviser to Bush, the architect of the American ‘war on terror’ after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In the wake of the attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
Biden has also made clear he wants to recalibrate US foreign policy to face bigger challenges posed by China and Russia.
Withdrawing all US troops comes with clear risks.
It could boost the Taliban’s effort to claw back power and undo gains toward democracy and women’s rights made over the past two decades.
It also opens Biden to criticism, from mostly Republicans and some Democrats, even though former President Donald Trump had also wanted a full withdrawal.
‘This administration has decided to abandon US efforts in Afghanistan which have helped keep radical Islamic terrorism in check,’ said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
‘And bizarrely, they have decided to do so by September 11th.’
While Biden’s decision keeps US forces in Afghanistan four months longer than initially planned, it sets a firm end to two decades of war that killed more than 2,200 US troops, wounded 20,000, and cost as much as $1trillion.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (seen above at the US Capitol on Wednesday) has admitted that a civil war or Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is ‘certainly a possible scenario’ when the US withdraws all its troops from the country by September 11