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Robert Gates on the future of Afghanistan

Robert Gates on the future of Afghanistan
Robert Gates on the future of Afghanistan 04:53

In an interview with 60 Minutes, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there is reason to fear Afghanistan will become a terrorist state under Taliban rule.

"I think it's a very real worry," Gates told correspondent Anderson Cooper. "The Taliban have never disavowed their relationship with Al Qaeda. And they haven't done it since they took power."

Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, oversaw nearly five years of fighting during the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Now, he sees other countries stepping in to play a larger role in Afghanistan. Even if money might help the U.S. maintain some leverage over the Taliban, Gates said, the group will also likely get assistance from China, Russia, and Iran. 

In an op-ed published in the New York Times this past June, Gates further explained the role he sees those countries taking. 

"Some observers contend that the Taliban…will moderate their policies and ideology in order to gain international recognition and economic assistance," he wrote. "However, the Taliban may be able to obtain both from China and other autocratic nations without tempering the harshness of their rule."

China would be incentivized to help the Taliban, Gates wrote, because an in-road into Afghanistan would give Beijing access to the country's minerals and geographic proximity to Iran, as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Was the surge a mistake?

As defense secretary, Gates may be best known for the surge, the controversial decision to send a temporary influx of 47,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. The goal was to reverse Taliban gains, but the strategy was hotly debated. 

During the 2020 presidential election, President Joe Biden, who had been vice president at the time of the surge, argued against it. "It was a big, big mistake to surge forces to Afghanistan. Period," Mr. Biden said. 

In hindsight, Gates said he stands by the decision. 

"I think I would make the same recommendation today because it did improve the security situation in Afghanistan, and particularly in the areas where the Taliban had been the most active, really seriously improved the security situation," Gates told Cooper. 

Cooper then asked Gates about comments he made in a 2011 interview on 60 Minutes. At the time, Gates had suggested that U.S. forced had "turned the corner in Afghanistan."

"What we didn't realize is that that those gains would last only as long as the U.S. kept that kind of a force in there," Gates said. 

The video above was edited by Will Croxton. 

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