Tom Pecora is a Wisconsin native and a former CIA agent. He is also the author of “GUARDIAN – Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA’s War on Terror.“
Pecora worked on an Afghanistan withdrawal plan in 2012. He talked about that and much more with WTMJ’s Libby Collins on WTMJ Conversations.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: When you were stationed in Afghanistan, you had a good idea of how many Afghan citizens were helping the United States, will those individuals and their families be able to get out?
TOM PECORA: As I said, I don’t even think that we’re going to be able to get the U.S citizens out. The idea that we’re going to be able to protect these Afghan citizens makes it even more difficult.
And then there’s also — Taliban elements have already started campaigns to look for and capture people that have worked for the U.S. Government in the efforts against them. So, they’re already coming out and looking for them, there’s been reporting that they’ve actually put people on the front of cars and basically they’re running them around in the area, showing them off as this is what happens to you when you are collaborating with the U.S. They have a long history of being very cruel to anyone that has worked against them.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, you’re saying that anybody who worked with the United States Government and, again, their families, they are in danger as soon as we pull out?
TOM PECORA: Absolutely. But there are elements that are coming out and actually talking about what they’re specifically going to do to the collaborators that they find. And it is some horrific things that are unfortunately looking very likely in the future.
LIBBY COLLINS: You worked with Taliban, you saw them face to face. Do you think they’ve changed from what they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago?
TOM PECORA: Not at all. Those of us who went in there in the beginning after 9/11, the specific goal was to go after Al-Qaeda elements. And once we attacked them and basically weakened them to the point where they were no longer a threat, at that point, the Taliban wasn’t necessarily our enemy, and we weren’t really going after them. Then the political end stepped in and said, well, we’re going to bring democracy to and freedom to the Afghan people.
Well, the Afghan people have never had a unified presence. They are tribal. You’ve got the Pashtun, you got elements that are — that literally the map lines go through the middle of tribes. So, half the tribe is considered Pakistani and the other half is Afghan, and that is — that’s just a line that was arbitrarily written on a map.
When we use guards in Kabul to protect our facilities, we would use guards that — Afghans that we would get from another section of Afghanistan who had a tribal rivalry with the tribes around Kabul.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, basically, you were using one group against the other.
TOM PECORA: Absolutely. And that has not changed one bit.
LIBBY COLLINS: We are hearing reports that a lot of veterans, a lot of people who have worked in Afghanistan, now are conducting attempts to get people out that they personally worked with. Do you know anything about that? And how possible is it for that to occur?
TOM PECORA: I know for a fact that there are elements that are active as we speak, 24/7, working to provide a variety of different services. They’re looking at trying to evacuate people out of Afghanistan through the borders. They’re working and collecting data about Taliban checkpoints so that — and working on providing data on how to circumvent these checkpoints. They’re coordinating a collection of people into specific areas, and then trying to move elements in there, into that area to get those groups and then try to safely move them to areas where they can be extracted.
There are companies, mostly veteran led, that are trying to charter planes to get into some of these out-of-the-way areas in Afghanistan to pull these people out. So, there’s a major issue. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government is basically telling them all to stand down.
LIBBY COLLINS: Do you think they’ll continue to try these operations even after the military pulls out of Kabul?
TOM PECORA: Absolutely. These veterans are committed. They’re committed to the promises that we’ve made
these individuals. They’re also very concerned about the U.S. citizens that are being left behind. Some of these citizens have had their paperwork taken away. In other words, they don’t have a passport anymore. They don’t have paperwork for their Afghan wives and children. So, they’re stuck in a very bad place.
And as the Taliban consolidates their powers, especially in Kabul, they’re going to be going after any and all individuals that worked against them. And so some of the stuff that’s going to be coming out of Afghanistan in terms of the way they treat these people, it’s going to get pretty horrific.
LIBBY COLLINS: What’s your concern as far as ISIS or other possible terrorist organizations now moving into Afghanistan and working out of that as their headquarters?
TOM PECORA: Well, if past history has shown, areas where there is a power vacuum or a lack of law and order, these areas are ripe for elements to come in. And the really scary part is when they start to try to set up their training camps. This is something that happened in Pakistan. In fact, for quite a few years, almost all of the major attacks, terrorist attacks were Pakistani training camp-based. If you look at what they call 7/7, which was the Pakistanis that were born and raised in England that did the English version of 9/11, thR was called 7/7. So those were from training camps in Pakistan.
That’s where the U.S. Government is going to have to make a decision on how they want to deal with Taliban and any other elements that will allow foreign terrorist groups come in and train and plan attacks on the U.S. — attacks on the U.S.
LIBBY COLLINS: Tom, knowing what you know now, should we have stayed there longer?
TOM PECORA: No, I can tell you for a fact — well, I mean, we were actively working on pulling out of Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013.
I was a party to bases being shut down, contracts being canceled, equipment being moved. What shocks me is that it continued on from — and didn’t actually get followed through in 2014, because the truth is, if you look at the history, the Taliban had already started to take over large sections of Afghanistan at that point. And we were all — we had already lost any chance of really freeing the country of that element. So that’s why we were working it, unfortunately, we succumbed to the same greed, the same desire for resources that other countries have that have gone into Afghanistan. The idea that they’re going to be able to go in there and get the minerals, the special metals, etcetera, that are in Afghanistan. Any country that thinks that they’re going to be able to do that, they’re going to fall for the same catastrophe that we have.