Barack Obama’s former defence secretary has said the US president lacked faith in his own policy to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan in 2009, saying he was focused on “getting out” despite ordering a surge.
In comments in his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Robert Gates says Obama did not trust his military commanders, could not stand the Afghan president, and did not believe in his own strategy to renew the fight against the Taliban by committing 30,000 additional US troops to the war.
In the book highlights, released on Wednesday a week in advance of full publication, Gates says of his experience in 2009: “As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
He said Obama did not trust the military leaders who were giving him options.
Gates, who has retired, adds that Obama was “sceptical if not outright convinced it would fail”.
“I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” he says.
Gates, who also served as Pentagon chief during the presidency of George W Bush, accuses White House staffers of undermining Obama’s resolve by criticising General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan at the time, and the idea of a “troop surge”.
He said White House staff undermined the president and had not clue about the realities of war.
The US surge is credited with pushing the Taliban out of large areas of southern Afghanistan and accellerating the development of Afghan security forces.
However, the Taliban continues to attack coalition and Afghan government targets.
The US is preparing to pull the bulk of its forces out of Afghanistan later this year.
Gates also has harsh words for the vice president, Joe Biden, a man considered by many to be a foreign-policy expert.
“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Gates says in his book.
And he admitted he at first opposed the raid that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death in May 2011.
Reacting to the publication of extracts from the book by the US media, the White House issued a highly unusual invitation for news organisation representatives to photograph Obama and Biden sitting together on Wednesday at their weekly private luncheon.
Also, Caitlin Hayden, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, defended Obama’s Afghanistan policy and called Biden one of the president’s closest advisers.
“Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the president has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year,” Hayden said.