The Russian president pulled no judo punches as he slammed the US coalition over its 20-year campaign failure in Afghanistan.
Speaking last week at a meeting with teenagers in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok to mark the start of the school year, Vladimir Putin – widely reputed to be a high-level expert in the art of judo – said Washington’s policies achieved nothing and only ended in further tragedies.
“American troops were present on that territory [of Afghanistan] for 20 years, and over those 20 years they were trying – this can be said without offending anyone – to civilize the local people, but in fact, to impose their norms and standards of life in the broadest sense of this word, including the political organization of society.
“The only result is tragedies and losses for those who were doing that – for the United States – and especially for the people who live on the territory of Afghanistan. This is a zero result, if not negative.”
It is “impossible to impose anything from outside.”
At the same time, even though Moscow has evacuated hundreds of people and plans to lay on further flights, Putin has been cautiously optimistic about the new leadership in Kabul, saying he would not meddle in its domestic affairs.
Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, told Russian state television: “We are establishing ties [with Taliban officials], our embassy in Kabul is working quite actively on this. We have had such contacts for a long time and we will work further on them.”
Even Britain’s MI6 and high-ranking Pentagon brass have said that the US and Taliban potentially could coordinate in the future against an offshoot of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 13 troops last month.
“It’s possible,” General Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, told reporters last week.
“We don’t know what the future of the Taliban is,” Milley said. “But I can tell you from personal experience that this is a ruthless group. Whether or not they change remains to be seen. And as far as our dealings with them at that airport, you do what you must.”
According to Mr Wolf, an expert in covert extractions and other aspects of the “dark world,” this would be a mistake. A terrible mistake.
The man who singlehandedly rescued Anthony Bourdain, his Parts Unknown television crew and several VIPs from Beirut during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006, says the Taliban simply cannot be trusted in any future endeavors.
A highly trained covert asset who has traveled the world “black on black” helping in the fight against terrorism, Mr Wolf (not his real name) says the Taliban are a terrorist organization that should have been eliminated when they were at their weakest.
The Taliban “have proven that they are not trustworthy in the past, and now they have taken the country by force and terrorism, why would anyone believe they could be trusted?” he said via an exclusive e-mail interview, while on a mission in South America.
“How many times over the last number of years have the Taliban betrayed or crossed any agreements or promises they have made?” he said.
“I refuse to accept that they are not cooperating with IS-K [Islamic State – Khorasan Province]. I saw no reports of any Taliban being killed in the attack at Kabul Airport.
“Also, how did they get to that location without going through Taliban checkpoints? When the Taliban released all the prisoners in Bagram, they released terrorists from all groups.”
Mr Wolf’s prediction for Afghanistan’s future was bleak, to put it mildly. He also does not see the economic recovery that some are predicting for the war-torn country.
“They will now reign the country by force, torturing and killing their own nationals,” he said.
“Of course they will harbor other terrorist organizations as a safe haven … like all terrorist groups they pretend it is about religious beliefs, but the fact is, it’s about money and power.
“There is no religion in the world that encourages killing their own people. If they were so religious, then why have the Taliban not stopped the production, processing and distribution of heroin.
“I think we will see huge increases of heroin production over the next year.
“The Taliban have gladly worked with numerous terror groups in the past (such as al-Qaeda), so why would that change now?”
While the world watched in horror as fearful Afghans surrounded and tried to climb aboard a rolling US Army C-17A Globemaster cargo plane at Kabul Airport, America’s botched retreat from the nation is now being viewed as an absolute disaster, as well as a black mark on the new administration of US President Joe Biden.
Mr Wolf, an expert on improvised explosive devices (IED), believes it all could have been avoided, and handled much better.
“For many months we have known the fate of Afghanistan and that the Taliban was going to control the country,” he said.
“A big mistake was closing Bagram before evacuating friendlies from Kabul. Bagram was the military force of Afghanistan.
“As long as they controlled Bagram, they could control the high ground and could have kept the Taliban out of Kabul and HKIA [Hamid Karzai International Airport] until all friendlies were safely removed.”
As for who must take the blame for the disaster in Kabul, Mr Wolf pointed the finger directly at the White House. However, he refused to believe that poor intelligence was in any way responsible.
“The current administration and president were the overseers of this fiasco,” he said.
“I believe it is one of the greatest government failures of all time. I had no surprise about the speed of the Taliban takeover.
“I also refuse to believe that poor intel was to blame. I think the politicians refused to listen, thinking they were smarter than their military advisers.
“I hope they are proud of their decisions which has and will continue to result in the death of so many, that had assisted with the coalition.”
As a specialist in classified operations for Western powers, he pointed to Canada’s pullout as being much better planned and carried out.
“It was no secret that the US was going to pull out, just as 10 years ago when the Canadians withdrew their battle groups, as Canada’s commitment to the mission was fulfilled. Canada then changed the mission to a mentoring mission.
“The completion of Canada’s commitment was properly planned to not leave a void in the overall protection of the Afghan people.”
And so, did we betray them? Do we share the guilt?
“I do not believe the US betrayed the people of Afghanistan on purpose,” he said.
“But due to lack of planning and underestimating the Taliban and not listening to defense intel, they ended up betraying a lot of Afghani people as well as American passport holders.
“This was one of the poorest executed extractions ever.”
Years ago, Canada’s former chief of the Defense Staff, Rick Hillier, would recount an incident during the Afghan war.
A Taliban commander who faced interrogation had assessed the massive firepower the West had assembled, but even as he saw his own forces being beaten, he remained unmoved.
“You have the watches,” the Taliban commander told Hillier, “but we have the time.”
The statement would haunt Hillier. Clearly, the Taliban were prepared to wait out the West and take the losses. It would be prophetic.
With files from Al Jazeera, Military.com and MacLean’s magazine, US Department of Defense