As the US begins a phased troop pullout from Afghanistan, former US defense secretary Robert Gates has weighed in on the developments, while also offering his take on the decision-making behind the raid on the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden.
On 2 May 2011, almost 10 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda against the United States that claimed the lives of at least 2,977 people and injured 6,000 others, the then-al-Qaeda* leader was killed in a US Navy SEAL raid in a suburban neighbourhood in Pakistan.
He was reportedly buried at sea off the deck of a US aircraft carrier.
It was the 9/11 attacks that prompted the US to declare a war on terror, and subsequently carry out invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Appearing on Fox News’ "Special Report", Robert Gates contributed to the controversy regarding whether President Joe Biden, during his stint as Vice-President, had been against the bin Laden raid.
The host Bret Baier recalled the book on the bin Laden raid written ostensibly by a member of the Navy SEALs under an assumed name, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden (2012).
“In the end, every one of the president’s top advisers except Biden was in favour of taking immediate action,” reads a passage from the book, quoted by Baier, who asked Gates whether this was true.
Gates, who has been promoting his new book, "Exercise of Power - American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World," confirmed that this was the case.
The former defense secretary, who served from 2006 to 2011 after being appointed by President George W. Bush and being retained for President Barack Obama’s tenure, admitted his reservations during the debate ahead of the raid.
While he had no doubt about the ability of the SEALs to carry out the mission, he had “preferred the use of a drone”.
“My worry was given my responsibility as secretary of defense… whether or not the raid was successful, the Pakistani reaction would be so severe that they would cut off our supply line between Karachi and Afghanistan, and we would lose the war in Afghanistan almost overnight,” said Gates.
However, according to the current university president, a couple of days before the raid he was persuaded that the operation was the best alternative.
“I called the national security adviser and told him that I supported going forward with the raid,” Gates told the host, while indicating that Joe Biden, at the time serving as Vice President to Barack Obama, was not similarly persuaded.
Robert Gates is known for having stated in his previous book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, out in 2014, that he felt Biden had been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”.
Regarding the Biden administration decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, Robert gates argued it was critical to continue the flow of economic and military assistance to the nation's government.
At the beginning of May, the US began its final phase of a pullout from Afghanistan, where American troops have been stationed for the past 20 years.
The 2,500 US troops will reportedly be gone from the country by September 2021 in a move that has already raised major concerns that terrorists would take over, causing Afghanistan to fall into a state of collapse.
Joe Biden and Bin Laden Raid
As for the polemics regarding Joe Biden's attitude towards the special operation against bin Laden, earlier this year the US president distanced himself from claims that he had originally opposed the mission in 2011, when he was serving as Vice President to Barack Obama.
Reports intimated that Biden had argued for waiting for additional intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts before okaying the strike.
Obama also argued in his 2020 memoir titled "A Promised Land" that Biden had advised him to wait before ordering the operation against bin Laden.
"Joe weighed in against the raid, arguing that given the enormous consequences of failure, I should defer any decision until the intelligence community was more certain that bin Laden was in the compound", Obama noted in reference to the discussion over the Navy SEAL mission that he ordered on the night of 1-2 May 2011.
According to the former vice president, he eventually told Obama, "president, follow your instincts about this".
In the weeks that followed the 2 May 2011 raid, Biden insisted that he along with other senior officials lauded Obama's move "to launch the daring action", according to The New York Times.