Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned of “huge consequences” of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.
Clinton told CNN there was a risk the Taliban – the Islamist group ousted in 2001 by the US-led invasion – could retake control.
The US aims to complete the withdrawal by Sept 11. The remaining US troops began formally withdrawing on May 1, amid escalating Taliban violence.
On Monday, Afghan officials said at least seven soldiers had been killed in a Taliban attack on a military outpost in the south-western Farah province.
They said militants had blown up the post after digging a tunnel for about 400m to access it from a nearby house. One soldier had been captured by the insurgents, they said. Other reports put the Afghan army casualties much higher.
“This is what we call a wicked problem,” Clinton told CNN. “There are consequences both foreseen and unintended of staying and of leaving.”
Clinton, like Biden a Democrat, was a strong supporter of the US intervention in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Biden wants to complete the withdrawal by the 20th anniversary of the attacks later this year.
At least 2,500 US troops are currently deployed as part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission. The president said the US pull-out was justified as American forces had ensured that the country could no longer be a base for foreign jihadists to plot against the West.
On Sunday, Clinton said, “Our government has to focus on two huge consequences”, notably the resumption of activities by extremist groups and a subsequent outpouring of refugees from Afghanistan.
She warned that the potential collapse of the Afghan government and a possible takeover by the Taliban could result in a new civil war.
She said it was important to protect the “many thousands of Afghans” who had worked with the US and Nato during the conflict, and said a large visa programme should be set up to provide for refugees.
Speaking at a press conference in London on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration was “very focused on a deliberate, safe and orderly” withdrawal of troops, but that the US would continue to assist the Afghan government.
“Even as our forces are pulling out of Afghanistan, we are not withdrawing – we are not disengaging,” he said, adding that if US troops were attacked before leaving the country, “decisive action” would be taken.
Analysts say Clinton’s criticism matters because so many in the foreign-policy establishment agree with her.
Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under president George W Bush, has also warned about the risks of withdrawing troops, and the threat of terrorism.
However, many Americans do not think the troops should be there. A 2019 Gallup poll showed 58% of Democrats think the war in Afghanistan has made the US less safe from terrorism.