September 21, 2021

Ret. Col. Ann Wright on Reopening U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001 & Why She Supports Troop Withdrawal

3 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
To talk more about the crisis in Afghanistan, we’re joined by two guests. The award-winning investigative reporter Azmat Khan, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan, New York Times Magazine contributing writer and Carnegie fellow, she’s also a visiting professor at Columbia University. And we’re joined by Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army colonel and former U.S. State Department official. She was part of the team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001. In 2003, she resigned on the eve of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. She is now a member of CodePink and Veterans for Peace.
Ann Wright, let’s begin with you. Take us back 20 years. You reopened the U.S. Embassy right after the U.S. invaded and attacked Afghanistan. Can you talk about that moment and then how you came to change your views — you were a U.S. Army colonel — and condemned the wars?
ANN WRIGHT: Thank you, Amy.
Yes, I went to Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. went into Afghanistan, first with the CIA and then with a small team of Special Forces folks. We reopened the embassy in December of 2001. I anticipated that it was going to be a short time the United States was going to be in Afghanistan, to go after al-Qaeda and then get out. However, as we know, that did not happen.
And as I stayed there over five months and saw that the U.S. government was really not providing any sort of funding for any programs that we thought perhaps we should do very quickly, like in education and health, and then went on to my next assignment, which was in Mongolia, I found that the U.S. government had already made its decision that it was going to invade and occupy Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. And that’s where I decided that I would resign from the U.S. government in opposition to that war.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about watching the U.S. Embassy close now and what you think should happen? Also, your response to what President Biden said yesterday?
ANN WRIGHT: Well, first, I don’t think the embassy should have closed. I mean, it’s one thing that the Taliban came in, but, you know, not all embassies closed in Kabul. If the United States really wants to help the people of Afghanistan over the continuing period next, you know, the next years, we’ve got to have a presence in Afghanistan.
I have closed embassies before. I closed the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone in 1997 due to the violence there. And so, I do recognize that the U.S. government did not know for sure what the Taliban was going to do when it came into Kabul; however, we have had negotiators in Doha for the last 18 months, including Zalmay Khalilzad, who’s Afghan himself, Afghan American, but he’s been the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as the ambassador to Iraq and the ambassador to the United Nations, and has been the special negotiator with the Taliban for 18 months. So, I would have anticipated that there would have been some sort of an agreement that not only would the Taliban not shoot at U.S. military, but that it would not harm the U.S. Embassy and that it would be possible for the embassy to remain open.
Closing it sends a real signal. And when that signal was made to the government, you know, leading Ghani, I think, to say, “Well, if the U.S. is going to pull its embassy out…” and then to — that he was going to get out. And for the military and police forces around the country seeing that the U.S., at long last — I mean, I was one of the people, many of the people, that said that the U.S. needed to get out of Afghanistan. We did not need to be in there for 20 years. But the way that it was done certainly did not, in any way, assist in the security of the country.