Commander Demetries Grimes is a combat decorated former US Naval Officer, aviator, and Diplomat. He has served as Naval Attaché to Israel and Greece, Secretary of Defense Executive Fellow, Deputy Commander of the US base in Crete, and adviser to NATO’s Maritime Commander in London, UK.
By Peggy K. Dokou
-Commander Grimes, the U.S. evacuation mission in Afghanistan has come to an end. What really happened there after all these years and now the area is under the occupation of Taliban? What went wrong?
President Biden’s misguided and uninformed desire for the political optics of ending a “forever war” overruled sound decision making. This failure was driven by his desire for a quick domestic political victory ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the US and the upcoming 2022 US mid-term elections.
The US and allies had achieved a politically, militarily and economically sustainable level of engagement in Afghanistan that was effective in containing the Taliban. President Biden’s April 2021 decision, against the advice of US military and intelligence community leaders, to completely withdraw all US military combat support to Afghanistan’s security forces from Afghanistan by August 31st 2021, regardless of conditions on the ground, blindsided allies, the Afghan government, and military. This decision provided a “green light” for the Taliban and emboldened them to launch their nationwide “blitzkrieg” offensive to take over all of Afghanistan.
-You have served in Afghanistan and I would like you to describe us the situation all these previous years.
Whether viewing it from above or on the ground, Afghanistan is a surreal, beautiful, and dangerous place. It’s where one can witness the best and worst of humanity in a single frame as the world saw recently in scenes broadcasted live from the chaotic exodus at Hamid Kharzai International airport.
My first deployment to Afghanistan was as a naval aviator with the first wave of US Navy aircraft carrier air power following the 9/11 attacks. My second deployment was on the ground in 2010-2011 as part of the counter-insurgency surge. Beyond my two deployments, I served in different headquarters and diplomatic posts that supported operations in Afghanistan from 2001-2017.
I always believed the original mission of terminating the Taliban regime’s control of Afghanistan, destroying terrorist training camps, and terminating Al Qaeda’s capabilities to coordinate attacks from Afghanistan was successfully achieved by the Spring of 2002 and that the US and allied heavy presence should have been reduced to the level achieved in early 2020 that proved effective in containing the Taliban.
-We watched President Joe Biden, defending Afghanistan withdrawal. In your opinion, USA could have another option?
Yes, as stated, an effective allied military presence footprint had been achieved. For the past several years, US, NATO, and partner force levels were reduced to a total of roughly 7,500 military advisors and support specialist in training, logistics, intelligence, and targeting to provide the counter-terrorism expertise required to support the Afghan forces’ ability to contain the Taliban. Since early 2020, there had been no US and allied force casualties in Afghanistan, and it appeared the ideal minimum US and allied footprint required to contain the Taliban had been achieved.
The incompetence of the Biden national security team’s decision making related to the total and unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan is directly responsible for the shameful and humiliating spectacle of the collapse of the Afghan government and military that resulted in the fraught, bloody, and chaotic US withdrawal. Counter to the US military’s successful heroic humanitarian airlift of more than 123,000 people, Biden’s abandonment of Afghanistan provides troves of material for countless case study lessons on failures in leadership, strategy, tactics, and execution —a permanent stain on American foreign policy, credibility, and global leadership.
The abandoning of American citizens, vulnerable partners, the Afghan people, and more than eighty-four billion dollars in advanced US military hardware and munitions to an armed mob of medieval militant Taliban fighters is a dereliction of duty and possible crime against humanity that warrants accountability at the highest levels of the US government, beginning with President Biden and the leadership of his national security team.
While the cost of weapons, ammunition, equipment, and infrastructure left behind can be itemized, the humiliation and unnecessary loss of lives, credibility, and trust are immeasurable. The forever war against Islamic jihadi terrorists didn’t end because the US left Afghanistan. It will continue, but now against an invigorated, emboldened, excited, and more capable foe that has a sanctuary in a new rogue state called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
-Must we, the European countries and NATO members, start worrying seriously about the new situation with Talibans? What can we expect from now on?
Yes, the EU and NATO countries should be deeply concerned. The ensuing chaos and humanitarian tragedy of the Afghan nation left behind will far outlast Biden’s term in office. The tens of thousands of soon to be Afghan refugees who couldn’t manage to board or cling to the fuselage of the last aircraft to depart Hamid Karzai International in Kabul are now making their way on foot to Turkey to lead the next wave of mass migration into Europe by land and by sea via Greece.
The UN estimates five hundred thousand Afghans will begin to make this journey during the next weeks. Iran reports more than one thousand Afghans a day have been crossing through its eastern border with Afghanistan since August 31st.
Biden’s Afghanistan retreat is the greatest capitulation and betrayal of allies, partners, including US citizens left behind, in US history. A truly disastrous and preventable failure that should serve as wake-up call to NATO and partners to take investments in defense capabilities, cooperation, training, and readiness seriously.
Beyond Afghanistan, America’s chaotic retreat is a significant victory for authoritarian rulers and Islamic terrorists around the world. Elected leaders and citizens in representative democracies on every continent should be gravely concerned. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan now joins the international community of authoritarian and rogue nations to usher in a new era of emboldened authoritarian ambition and conquests. America is not back, America has departed.
-What would you say is the greatest failure of the West’s intervention in Afghanistan?
The greatest failure of the West’s intervention in Afghanistan was not arming and training the Afghan women to fight. They had everything to lose. Young girls left behind are now destined to be child brides of Taliban fighters and officials, condemned to a life of subjugation and lost opportunity under fundamentalist Taliban rule.
(This interview has published in Greek in ‘dimokratiki,gr’ newspaper and blog)