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Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann discusses ongoing crisis in Afghanistan

Neumann talks causes, subtleties, implications of Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan as part of Watson Distinguished Speaker Series

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and President of the American Academy of Diplomacy Ronald Neumann spoke to members of the Brown community Wednesday about the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and its implications.

The event, titled “The Crisis in Afghanistan: In Conversation with the Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan,” was moderated by Visiting Scholar J. Brian Atwood and hosted by the Watson Institute as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

At the event, Neumann recounted his experiences in Afghanistan while serving as ambassador from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Neumann had served as ambassador to Algeria and to Bahrain.

He noted that the situation on the ground “was not about the numbers of soldiers. This was about the morale of the Afghan army,” which he said began to decline particularly during the Trump administration.

He said that the U.S. failed to execute its decision to withdraw appropriately and missed the opportunity to evacuate troops peacefully, raising President Biden’s eschewing of counsel from NATO allies to remain in Afghanistan.

He listed problems he sees in the United States’ approaches to foreign affairs more broadly, such as not taking into consideration local cultures and feeling a constant need to take action. “If we cannot do something for a long time, we decide to do something, or we have excruciating difficulty deciding not to do something,” he said at the event.

Neumann argued that the current crisis in Afghanistan, including the Taliban comeback in August 2021 and the departure of U.S. troops, is a result of both a corrupt Afghan administration and a U.S. government that “never focused on one policy” and “created over the last year a growing sense among Afghans of betrayal,” according to an interview with Bloomberg Politics. In a July 25 op-ed for the Washington Post, Neumann emphasized that the United States has to “realize how its actions have hurt morale, and to do its part to shore it up again.”

When it comes to interventions, Neumann said at the event that the U.S. government does not “ask really hard questions about how is this going to end, and therefore what resources do you need in order to bring that end about. And if that end is not in your power, what are you going to do instead?”

“None of the presidents who as commander-in-chief put our troops into the war really took ownership of these wars. They didn’t sell them to the American people. They did not make any sustained effort to explain the logic of them. They did not deal with the contradictions in the logic they did explain,” he added.

Neumann also noted the uncertainty of the current situation in Afghanistan and discussed the potential consequences of the Taliban resurgence. 

Afghan refugees fleeing to Europe “will be an increasing problem,” he told The Herald. Over the past 10 years, especially after the Taliban comeback, millions of refugees have entered Europe, according to EUObserver

“Some of Ambassador Neumann’s comments were really insightful, but they also reinforce the beliefs that have been going around for (a while), particularly his initial point about decline in the morale and … how the National Army itself collapsed,” said event attendeee Muhammad Omar Afzaal GS. He added that he appreciated Neumann’s “ability to speak about his (own) experiences.”

Amelia She GS said she attended the event because she found the crisis in Afghanistan relevant and because Neumann is a well-known figure in international relations who “knows a lot about this issue.” 

“Biden has always had a strong stance (on) this issue,” she told The Herald. “His own personality and his own political thinking is very salient in his decision. I’m sure that he has a group of people making decisions together with him, but I think his executive decision is very important on what has been going on in Afghanistan.”

By attending this event, She added that she has “learned a lot more about this crisis and its backdrop on everything that happened.”

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