Afghanistan: Trump national security adviser weighs in on arming resistance against Taliban

H.R. McMaster, the retired Army general and former national security adviser in the Trump administration, tells Yahoo News Editor in Chief Daniel Klaidman that the U.S. should consider supporting Afghan insurgents fighting against the Taliban.

Video transcript

DANIEL KLAIDMAN: Let's be more specific about what you mean by reversing course and engaging some of the other Afghans in that country who we might be able to engage. Are you talking about really supporting an insurgency? A kind of a reconstitution of the Northern Alliance in the North of Afghanistan to continue this war against the Taliban and hopefully prevail at some point? And what does that support look like? American support?

H.R. MCMASTER: Well, I think that's going to be a decision for the president to make at some stage. I think the sooner he considers it, the better. Because you know what? I mean, the sad thing about this, Dan and Mike, is we're going to be back. Right?

I mean, think about December of 2011. Then-Vice President Biden called up President Obama on the phone. And he said, "thank you for allowing me to end this goddamn war."

Well, hey, guess what? Al-Qaeda in Iraq didn't look around and say, "the Americans are gone, I guess we'll just stop."

And so what you had is Al-Qaeda in Iraq morph into ISIS, the most destructive terrorist organization in history, which took control of territory the size of Britain, that conducted about 200 attacks internationally-- including shooting down an airliner, multiple attacks in Europe, including on the Brussels airport. And that we had to go back, right? We had to go back and wage a sustained campaign against ISIS.

I mean, that's what we're facing now, is the growth of jihadist terrorists in one of the ideological hearts of jihadist terrorism-- the so-called Khorasan region, which spans the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, an area in which 20 US-designated terrorist organizations already exist. And you know what? We try too darn hard to disconnect the dots between them. We bought into the self-delusion that there's this bold line between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Maybe they'll help us with Al-Qaeda.

Hey, come on. Siraj Haqqani is the military commander of the Taliban. He is a prominent leader within Al-Qaeda as the head of the Haqqani Network.

And guess what? He's the number one taker of US hostages. And he is the master of mass murder attacks in urban areas. That's what the Haqqani Network brought, in terms of their differential advantage to jihadist terrorism.

And he's in charge now of Kabul, and he's in charge of security overall in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan. So we are in for a period of increasing danger. What we saw today is just the beginning. It's just the beginning.

DANIEL KLAIDMAN: What would you be telling President Biden? Should we be arming the resistance in the North of Afghanistan?

H.R. MCMASTER: Well, I think you have to have established some short-term goals and some long-term goals. And the short-term goal should be to get all American citizens and those Afghans who are at the highest risk who have helped us the hell out of there.

Now, if that's your set of objectives, you're going to have to make some tough decisions. You're going to have to extend the timeline. You probably have to extend the security perimeter there.

But then, also, I think it is not too soon-- in fact, it's probably overdue-- to have a longer conversation of, hey, is it really acceptable to have a jihadist terrorist state in Afghanistan next to the terrorist ecosystem that exists in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country? I mean, and the risk associated to American citizens and our homeland associated with that. And if not, then I think there has to be a discussion about what options exist to ensure that doesn't happen.

And I think, again, stop empowering the Taliban. Why is the US envoy who negotiated the capitulation agreement, who made concession after concession and was instrumental in delivering these psychological blows to the Afghans-- why is he still our envoy and is sitting across the table from these Taliban actors, who are already allowing this-- I believe-- facilitating the attack that we just saw? I think it's unconscionable.

How about step one, recall him. How about step two, extend the timeline. How about step three, deploy the forces you deem necessary to guarantee safety. Although it's extremely difficult with that Kabul airport.

But making it clear to the Taliban, hey, you think you're in charge now? That could be reversed. That could be reversed quite easily. We have the capability to do it. And again, the question is, do we have the will to do it.

And again, of course, associated with that, what is the mission? Is the mission just to complete our surrender and to leave the field there in humiliation, and leave behind American citizens, and leave behind Afghans, who will be mercilessly brutalized and taken hostage? Or is the mission to get them the hell out of there?