KABUL: The new US ambassador to Afghanistan said today that the United States is not rushing to leave the country and cautioned that what happens in the months ahead will have far-reaching effects across the globe.
Ryan Crocker takes over as America’s top diplomat in Afghanistan as President Barack Obama begins withdrawing some of the 33,000 American reinforcements he sent in December 2009 as part of an effort to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. Some Republican lawmakers called the withdrawal plan too risky, saying it did not leave enough coalition troops in the country to deal a decisive blow to the insurgency.
Speaking after being sworn in at the US Embassy in Kabul, Crocker tried to allay Afghan fears about Obama’s plan to bring 10,000 US troops home by year’s end, as many as 23,000 more by September 2012 and a formal end to the combat mission by the end of 2014. “We must proceed carefully,” he said. “There will be no rush for the exits. The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far in the future.”
He said the US was wrong to withdraw support from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, but stressed the US had no interest in having permanent bases in the nation.
Many Afghans felt abandoned by the US after 1989, when the Soviet Union withdrew its army from Afghanistan and US support to mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets dried up. Afghanistan then sank into years of brutal civil war, which was followed by the rise of the Taliban, al-Qaida’s use of Afghanistan as a sanctuary and the September 11 attacks. “The coming year will be critical in setting the right glide path,” Crocker told hundreds of embassy employees, diplomats and military leaders gathered outdoors in a red tent where a light breeze tempered the morning heat.
Crocker, who has held top diplomatic postings in Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, submitted his credentials to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a ceremony at the presidential palace later today. He came out of retirement to replace Karl Eikenberry, who left Afghanistan earlier this month. Crocker has served in Afghanistan before, reopening the US Embassy in Kabul in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban. He also helped bury a piece of the World Trade Centre, which was toppled during the September 11 attacks, at the base of a flagpole on the embassy grounds. “We will never forget and 10 years on, I’m here to join all of you in doing our utmost to ensure that such an attack never happens again,” said Crocker, who recalled being in New York on September 11 and watching the twin towers collapse.
He acknowledged that many citizens of troop-contributing nations, including the United States, were weary of the war. “My answer to that is to remind those who say ‘We should be done’ of the incalculable, long-term effects and costs of getting it wrong” in Afghanistan, he said. “We owe nothing less to the next generation of Afghans, Americans and others not to repeat the mistakes of 20 years ago.”