COLORADO SPRINGS — Retired General Gene Renuart was Director of Operations for U.S. Central Command on September 11th, 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and has had a long and vested interest in what has happened the past 20 years in Afghanistan.
I had the opportunity to speak with the retired four-star United States Air Force General about the deadly attacks in Kabul on Thursday. So far the there are at least 13 U.S. military casualties, fifteen injuries, and dozens of Afghan civilian deaths.
General Renuart told me he was not surprised it happened, but says he was a little surprised it took this long into the now two-week-long evacuation of Americans and our allies from the Kabul airport. The urgent evacuation is taking place after the Taliban took control of the country with the U.S. military pullout.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack at the airport and a nearby hotel, and that's not surprising to General Renuart. He says the Taliban is trying to assert themselves as a different group from when 9/11 occurred and be an international partner with the west, but he says this has put a target on their back from terrorist groups who have operated unchecked in Afghanistan for decades and have carried out attacks within the country.
General Renuart says the concentration of the U.S. military and civilians was the perfect time for an attack.
"We have created at Kabul, out of necessity really, because we had no other bases, but really a center or a hub for all of the western military western civilian movement, so to a degree, it becomes the most pleasing target if you are planning to conduct some sort of terrorist activity," he said.
Remember, at its core, Afghanistan remains a fractured, tribal nation, and Taliban leadership wants to change that, at least that is what they were telling the U.S. and our allied partners after they took control of the country.
General Renuart told me the vision of the Taliban seems simple but could be impossible to achieve.
"We realize that in order for Afghanistan to really grow in the future, we have to have free flow of citizens and trade and traffic and it's in the interest to ensure that those Afghan citizens who want to leave are given the opportunity to do that," he said.
The U.S. has vowed to push on with the evacuation plan, and right now, no additional U.S. or coalition forces are expected to arrive, unless ordered.
General Renuart believes our mission will continue to evolve, but that we will need assurance from the Taliban leadership to continue to carry it out and allow safe passage.
"So the challenge of the U.S. and our coalition partners, British, French and others, is to be able to create avenues that are protected, no do we have the right forces, I think so."
The General added that it's imperative the Taliban help us complete this mission, continue to assist in the screening process at the airport, making sure communication lines are open and safe, help in the effort to find those responsible for today's attacks, and allow their own people and Americans to leave without hindrance.
He believes our investment in Afghanistan all these years should not be lost in what's happening now, and that progress was made. As for the ongoing mission, he says the U.S. must protect those we've invested in for two decades to try and help the country move forward.