Ambassador Crocker’s warning to the West

The Daily Telegraph (UK) has published some very ominous quotes from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the State Department’s man in Kabul. While many in Washington are trying to downplay the importance of Afghanistan to al Qaeda, Crocker is saying the opposite — in no uncertain terms.

“If we decide we’re tired, they’ll be back,” Crocker told the Telegraph. “Al Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan. If the West decides that 10 years in Afghanistan is too long then they will be back, and the next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city.”

“We have killed all the slow and stupid ones. But that means the ones that are left are totally dedicated,” Crocker said. “We think we’ve won a campaign before our adversaries have even started to fight. They have patience, and they know that we are short on that.”

The Telegraph also notes that, according to NATO, “up to 100 al Qaeda fighters have returned to the country, based mainly in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces near the border with Pakistan.” And that’s not all. “Hundreds more are based in Pakistan and could return if circumstances were to change.”

Remember that, according to an estimate released by US intelligence officials and endorsed by high-level administration officials, there are only 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives inside Afghanistan at any one time. Bill Roggio has exposed the fallacies of that estimate on multiple occasions. [See, for example, here.] Now we have a report that 100 more al Qaeda operatives have returned to Afghanistan in recent months, and hundreds more wait across the border for a good opportunity to join them.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    is this an April Fool’s posting?

  • JRP says:

    Thank God for people like Ambassador Crocker, who are courageous enough to speak truth to power. The notion of putting a deadline on the end to this WoT is and always has been self-delusional. We seem comfortable enough with the idea of “eternal vigilance” against imposition of tyranny from our own Gov’t. What prevents us from the realization that the idea of “eternal vigilance is also sometimes applicable to the threat of tyranny emanating from abroad? Whether it be 10 years or a 100 years, if we want to prevent Taliban/AQ from acquiring nuclear weapons by gift/purchase/theft and detonating them here, we as a people must lean in to the task of defeating Taliban/AQ regardless the cost/time/sacrifice. The Taliban/AQ threat to the United States is an existential threat that will not go away by simply declaring victory and leaving the field of battle.

  • Barry Larking says:

    Ambassador Crocker is of course quite right in what he says. I suspect being right will do his career no favours. The blunt fact is that the conflict the west is engaged in is not strictly a war as we have come to understand it, nor is it neatly tied to geography. There is no fixed battlefield and no enemy capital nor leadership to capture in some conclusive outcome. This is a process of grinding them down. As long as Iran is a position to obstruct a solution to the Palestine – Israel issue this is the reality we must face. Long War is about right; it began in 1970 at Dawson’s Field Jordan and its not over by a long chalk.
    Not working harder to transform public understanding has been the biggest gap in western defence thinking. Unfortunately, self belief lies far to the south of instant gratification in political thought today. Liberal (small or large ‘L’) could not come about today since it lacks the will to assert itself.

  • Charley says:

    I am most worried about the “Hundreds more are based in Pakistan…” Why haven’t we made it so expensive for the Pakistani military, ISI and government that such behavior is made untenable? After 10 years and hundreds of our troops being killed by this complicity? Where is the outrage?

  • gitmo-joe says:

    It is a disservice to our great nation for ambassador Crocker to knowingly make such outrageously false statements. I think we all know the Al Qaeda our forces have killed, risking their lives, getting wounded and sometimes paying with their lives, were not slow and stupid. By working with locals, developing intelligence and applying out technology, training and skill we have taken out a lot of bad actors. Many of these people are very sharp and completely ruthless to say the least. They receive training, equipment, supplies and from the intelligence agencies of both Pakistan and Iran. It has been an immensly difficult task. It has not been a matter of killing slow stupid people.
    His statement is not worthy of further comment except to say that Afghan citizens who are anti-American and sympathize with Al Qaeda and may or may not be “members” number in the millions.

  • tunde says:

    I prefer to contrast Amb. Crocker’s warnings with what Col Davis wrote about the complete lack of progress in the ‘ghan. At the end of this all, how much money and how many men are you willing to sacrifice with an increasingly restive population and a duplicitous ‘partner’ in this phoney ‘war’ ? Cutting the force footprint down to SOF type counter-terror ops is prolly the most cost-effective solution right now.
    AQ-ism will ultimately be defeated by members of the ummah and the secondary and tertiary consequences of the Arab spring, not, in my humble opinion by a permanent war footing that politicians posture with in order to lessen our individual freedoms. I’d love to see Andrew Bacevich’s response to the Ambassador’s statement.

  • Villiger says:

    “Hundreds more are based in Pakistan and could return if circumstances were to change.”
    PAQISTAN! A country in need of salvation.

  • Paul D says:

    Pakistan is the problem not Afghanistan.Ask any soldier serving in Afghanistan.They know Taliban/AQ HQ is in Pakistan.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    Crocker is right on. This is why we need to make sure we stay in Afghanistan with a significant Special Forces, Spec Ops and CIA paramilitary and Drone contingent. We also need to continue to build up the ANSF and FUND all of this the way it needs to be funded. Personally I don’t think we should be pulling troops out at all, but I understand the American people are tired of the war. If only Americans would realize that if we fail in Afghanistan we could be inviting another 9/11…maybe they would support the war effort more!

  • Mr. Nobody says:

    @gitmo-joe your words will surely come back to haunt you. Killing UBL has not had the desired effect on the organization. It is clearly regrouping in Afghanistan with support from Iran and Pakistan. It’s not the same AQ that attacked us on 9/11 by any means and we are in the dark about it’s present and future capabilies. It has shown it’s resiliance time and time again. Ask yourself what does the Ambassador have to gain by making false accusations about AQ in Afghanistan? He has everything to gain from the opposite. I think he is far more qualified to make an informed comment than yourself. Additionally, it is abundantly clear that the TTP and others have aligned themselves with Al Qeada and are an extension of their designs. Refusing to acknowledge the facts got nearly 3,000 people killed in a single afternnon even though the facts were staring us in the face. Let’s not repeat that mistake.

  • Charu says:

    Crocker is absolutely correct, but he didn’t complete the warning. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is not the problem, it is the untouched (except by few and far in between drone attacks) reservoir of jihadis in Pakistan that is the concern. Pakistan may “win” a Pyrrhic victory if ISAF withdraws, but they are playing with fire. The moment that there is a terrorist attack in a Western city, similar to 9-11 or the Mumbai attack, that is traced back to players in Af-Pak, all bets will be off and even Pakistan will be in the world’s cross-hairs,

  • Alice says:

    I believe Mr. Crocker is correct. I also believe that the real problem is how DC mandates how the war is to be fought. Quit babying our military, quit interfering w/the culture and traditions. Quit apologizing and caving to every demand the enemy makes. Let our boys fight the war as it should be fought. If that can’t/won’t be done then bring them home.
    The FBI has been ordered to cave to CAIR here in this country. We have been infiltrated every which way. So what is the point of keeping our guys overseas?

  • Will Fenwick says:

    We should be funding proxy militias to wipe out the Taliban in the Pakistani frontier agencies, perhaps get one of the heads of the old afghan monarchy to declare an independent state of warizistan and use it as a proxy by having it request our assistance in eradicating the taleban since Pakistan virtually abandoned its sovereignty over the area with the warizistan accord.

  • Gitmo-Joe says:

    Many people do not like it when opinions are voiced that differ from their own. But that is precisely what America, democracy, and this web site is all about. To in any way suggest that someone should not question a public figure, or that they will be responsible for the deaths of fellow citizens in future terrorist attacks against America, is a poor sunstitute for factual analysis of the military situation on the ground. I have learned things and had my perspective broadened from comments on this site even though I disagreed with the general theme of the statement.
    Nobody is saying Ambassador Crocker is stupid or incompetent. Everyone knows of his experience in the Middle East. What I said was, he is saying things that he knows are not true. That is my opinion. If you think Ambassador Crocker believes that Al Qaeda is only a hundred guys and we have only killed the slow stupid ones then that is your opinion.
    You do not hear statements even remotely similar coming from Petraeus or Panetta. A lot of smart guys in the upper ranks of the military do not agree with the ambassador’s statement at all.
    The ambassador is obviously in a sensitive political position. To advocate staying the course while your bosses, the commander in chief and the secretary of state, advocate the opposite, is in keeping with the complex and contradictory role of an ambassador to a fragile nation, in a war, during a pull out. It would not be appropriate for the ambassador to say “we are getting out of this place”. The ambassador is doing his job. However, I think he went too way too far in advocating this position.
    Maybe saying his statement was a “disservice” was a little harsh, but he is public figure and an important source of information for many citizens. I believe he knows these statements are not true and a person in his position making them hurts the decision making process of our country.
    George Bush SENIOR in the first Gulf War showed us how 9/11 should have been handled. In a few months, in what became known as the 100 hour war, we went in, delivered devastating punishment, and got out. We did not try to build any schools, hospitals, roads or woman’s rights centers. We did not try to prop up any frail governments, fix any countries, or turn the mission into a 10 year engagement. We could have wrapped this up ‘good enough’ in 18 months, but we got involved in nation building and diverting to Iraq. The many windows of opportunity of those early days have long since closed.
    The U.S. military is not a traveling magic show. Our troops cannot improve literacy rates, eliminate corruption, or turn medieval societies in modern democracies. When we send our troops in to solve unsolvable problems for a protracted period of time we create other problems, we look weak in front of our enemies, and we erode the public’s support for future military engagements that are well planned and essential.

  • Mr. Nobody says:

    I’d like to point out to those who cite Col Davis’s report on progress, that substantial and quantifiable gains had been achieved under the initial phase of General Petreaus’s surge plan in conjunction with a relentless and effective drone compaign across the border. All reports indicated that TB/AQ leadership were reeling from the effects and that defections/in fighting amongst the leadrship and rank in file were increasing.
    The CiNC’s sudden reversal and cancellation of the surge strategy came at a highly critical and pivotal time in the campaign. Additionally, the raid to kill UBL had the unintended consequences of limiting our drone missions in Pakistan. The dire warnings from military and civilian experts of the dangers of a premature withdrawal and public announcement of a timetable for such withdrawal has led to the predicted consequences. The hard won gains in the south and elsewhere are diminished. The enemy has found a renewed fighting spirit. The general population feels abandoned and afraid of TB reprisals. It has been a downhill avalanche ever since.
    I’m afraid it may now be out of our reach to turn it around. One has to wonder what might have been the outcome should the surge plan been followed through till the end. Would we be in the dire situation we face today?

  • tunde says:

    War mobilization is one of the most effective means of social control. As time goes by the extraordinary is normalized in citizen experience. Like Afghanistan we have been “at war” (in a virtual way, by media saturation) for more than a decade. It is natural for us to accept the curtailments endemic to a garrison state. Be obedient little Johnny Q. Public or a boogeyman terrorist gonna get you. Don’t be asking the wrong questions of a secretive corporate dominated state. It could hurt your credit score.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @trunde: I’ll take the opinion of a tested diplomatic professional like Ambassador Crocker over that of a disgruntled Lieutenant Colonel who has become the darling of the anti-War Left.

  • Mr T says:

    Of course they are there and of course they will be back. Have we done anything to curb the ideology? We kill people but the ideology still exists in the same form.
    New people are drawn to it and will continue until the ideology is busted. That may come from the ummah or it may come from the clerics that lead the ummah. Right now the clerics worldwide still strongly support the ideology including violent jihad.
    Whats our public relations team up to?

  • Gitmo-Joe says:

    I would like to retract my my initial statement about Ambassador Crocker; the word “disservice” was too harsh. But I stand by my assertion that he knows the statements are not true.
    I think some of you guys should stop with the slamming responses. Most of us here have friends and family serving and know people who have died over there. Nobody should be told they not worthy to comment. If statements are not credible they will be of no consequence anyway.
    It is not an ambassador’s job to speak the truth 100% of the time. He is a diplomat. I will take the word of a Marine on the ground, walking through villages, over that of a diplomat. And that is not in any way disrespectful to Crocker

  • bard207 says:

    Mr T,

    Of course they are there and of course they will be back.
    Have we done anything to curb the ideology?
    We kill people but the ideology still exists in the same form.
    New people are drawn to it and will continue until the ideology is busted.
    That may come from the ummah or it may come
    from the clerics that lead the ummah. Right now the
    clerics worldwide still strongly support the ideology including violent jihad.
    Whats our public relations team up to?

    Until the OIC tackles the radical ideology, Public Relations work by the U.S. and other Non Muslim majority countries to combat the radical Islamic ideology is going to be an uphill struggle.
    There are over fifty countries in the OIC and they accomplish little beyond holding meetings and perhaps releasing some policy statements.
    List of OIC Countries
    Somalia has been an embarrassment for the Islamic world for decades, yet the OIC refuses to do anything about it.
    The same could be said about Sudan and several other OIC members, yet there hasn’t been an initiative by the OIC to do anything to combat the defamation of Islam by religious radicals within OIC members.
    Perhaps some needed changes will happen in the Islamic World sometime in the Future, but the Future is probably still quite far over the horizon.

  • Mr. Nobody says:

    @ Gitmo-Joe not to turn this forum into a personal online argument between two seperate points of view but your last statements indicate that you yourself have not been to Afghanistan. Is that true and are you just taking the word of a Marine? My own very personal experiences there have helped shape my opinion on the subject.
    Ambassador’s are appointed by the President of the United States. Most of the time they are close personal friends and aquaintences of the President. Once again, I don’t know how it benefits him as a politician to make statements that run counter to the President’s own strategy?

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Perhaps this review of LtCol Davis’ treatise might interest readers of LWJ:

    Lt. Col. Davis’ Afghan report: He talks a good game, but there’s not much to it

  • Charu says:

    I fail to understand why this issue is being framed in black and white terms. Both Crocker and Davis are correct. While Al Qaeda has taken serious body blows it remains a threat because it can regroup in safety inside Pakistan. And there is lack of progress in Afghanistan because the Taliban leadership lives in safety inside Pakistan. The solution to both (related) facts is to not withdraw and leave a vacuum in which both the Taliban and Al Qaeda multiply. If Pakistan is a open festering sore today, an Afghanistan left to the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be gangrene. The cost of amputating that would be considerably higher than anything currently being wasted in tenuously holding on.
    But, in the end, both policies are doomed to failure because the main source of the Taliban/Al Qaeda metastases, Pakistan’s reckless and duplicitous military/security complex who are addicted to using terrorism as a means, is not being directly tackled.


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