Robert O’Neill, the retired Navy SEAL credited with killing terrorist Osama Bin Laden, weighed in on Wednesday on new acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s announcement the day before that the U.S. military will draw down forces in Afghanistan and Iraq by Jan. 15, 2021.
Continue Reading Below
U.S. forces will be cut by roughly half in Afghanistan to 2,500, and by 500 troops in Iraq to 2,500, Miller said in the Pentagon briefing room. Miller said he called allies and spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about the decision.
President Trump has called for American troops to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan since he assumed office in 2017. Earlier this year, the president drew the ire of some military officials by declaring troops should be “home by Christmas.”
“We’ve been working in Afghanistan trying to train their local forces going on two decades now,” O’Neill pointed out. “If they don’t have it by now, they’re never going to get it.”
“They want their values. They don’t want American diplomacy,” he continued, noting that “whether you like it or not if you’re in a country for that long you’re an occupier.”
“They don’t have the infrastructure. They really don’t want the infrastructure,” he added.
He then explained that the U.S. will be “fine” if forces in Afghanistan are scaled back.
“We can be fine drawing it down to keeping a base like Bagram Airfield where we have the air force,” O’Neill explained. “We have carriers that can reach it.”
“If they come up with training sites that need to be bombed, we can bomb them,” he continued. “We have 300 agency people in different spots where they can monitor.”
He added that “it doesn’t take a bunch of marines and infantrymen patrolling around very narrow roads and trying to build schools.”
“It hasn’t worked before. It’s not going to work now,” O’Neill stressed.
The troop drawdown will be completed just five days before President-elect Joe Biden’s presumptive inauguration. Iraqi intelligence said at least four rockets were fired at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad moments after Miller confirmed the partial withdrawal of American forces from the country.
“Iraq was one of those things we shouldn’t have invaded, then we shouldn’t have left,” O’Neill said. “But it’s time for us to leave now.”
“They’re being run by Iran and us keeping people on the ground is really not going to help that much,” he continued. “We should concentrate on bigger stuff like what’s going to happen with China.”
The order was announced days after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller. Shortly before his firing, Esper sent a classified memo to the White House in which he expressed concern about the accelerated timeline for a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, Fox News confirmed. The Washington Post first reported on the memo.
In the memo, Esper argued the timing was not right and that an accelerated withdrawal could endanger remaining U.S. troops and derail peace talks in Afghanistan.
In response, O’Neill said he is not. He explained that “ISIS was formed because of us leaving Iraq too soon,” adding that he is “not going to blame anybody for that.”
“Wherever they can go they will plant the ISIS flag,” O’Neill said. “It’s not like a bunch of foreign fighters from Egypt and Jordan are going to Afghanistan and forming ISIS. These are local Taliban guys that decide they’re going be ISIS. It’s part of the same radical Islamic ideology.”
He stressed that U.S. forces “don’t need to stick around to negotiate, especially with the Taliban.”
“A lot of these arguments inside of the Pentagon … these guys yelling about what we’re doing, they haven’t won the war in 20 years so maybe we should do something different,” O’Neill said.
Fox News’ Thomas Barrabi and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.