Key conclusions from US military leaders regarding withdrawal from Afghanistan
The testimony of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, contrasted with Biden’s comments earlier this year to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that his military leaders did not recommend maintaining the remaining force.
The revelation came during a six-hour hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee where Milley also described the US military mission in Afghanistan as a “strategic failure” and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged it was time to acknowledge some “inconvenient facts.” About the two-decade US military mission in Afghanistan.
Here are some key points:
Military leaders wanted to keep at least 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan
While Milley and McKenzie said they would not reveal the content of private conversations with Biden, both generals offered their personal opinions, which they said matched their recommendations.
“My assessment was in the fall of ’20 and has been consistent the whole time we should hold steady at 2,500, and it could rebound to 3,500,” Milley told Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
“I recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, I also recommended in early fall 2020 that we keep 4,500 troops at that time, and that was my personal opinion,” McKenzie said.
The generals’ comments contradict what Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an August 18 interview.
“No one said—your military advisors did not say to you, ‘No, we should only keep 2,500 soldiers. The situation has been stable for the past several years. We can do that. Stephanopoulos asked Biden, can we continue to do this?
No, Biden said. “No one told me that, I can remember it.”
Biden also said his military advisers are “divided” on the issue.
McKenzie said he also warned that the withdrawal of US forces “will inevitably lead to the collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan army.”
“I also had the view that the withdrawal of those forces would inevitably lead to the collapse of the Afghan military and ultimately the Afghan government,” he said.
Austin and Millie told senators that the sudden collapse of the Afghan government, as well as the US military’s mission in Afghanistan over the past two decades, should be examined for what might have gone wrong.
Milley became the first US military commander to describe the US military mission in Afghanistan as a “strategic failure” that developed over time.
“The results in a war like this, the result of a strategic failure – the enemy is responsible in Kabul, there is no other way to describe it – this is a 20-year cumulative effect,” Milley said.
The general speculated that the US had trained an Afghan army that “reflected” the US military without taking into account local and cultural traditions and allowed it to rely too heavily on US technology.
“We helped build a nation, but we couldn’t form a nation,” Austin said. “The fact that the Afghan army, we and our trained partners, simply melted – in many cases without a shot being fired – surprised us all. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
“We need to look at some uncomfortable facts,” he added. “That we did not fully understand the depth of corruption and weakness of leadership in their upper ranks, that we did not realize the harmful effect of the repeated and unjustified maneuvers by President Ghani of his leaders, and that we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that Taliban leaders made with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement, And that the Doha agreement itself had a depressing effect on the Afghan soldiers, and that we failed to realize that there was only so much — and for whom — so many Afghan forces would fight. And the Afghan army provided us with equipment, aircraft, and the skills to use them.”
“Over the years, they often fought bravely,” Austin said. “Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers died. But in the end, we couldn’t provide them with the will to win. At least not all of them.”
The generals said that US intelligence did not predict the Taliban’s quick seizure of power
The three leaders expressed their astonishment at how quickly Afghan forces collapsed, resulting in the Taliban taking control of the country in 11 days.
“I didn’t expect it to take days. I thought it could take months,” McKenzie said, adding that he expected the Afghan army to be able to hold out against the Taliban until later this year and possibly early next year. .
“We certainly did not plan against the collapse of the government in 11 days,” Austin said.
Milley, who later described the failure to predict the scope and scale of the Taliban’s power grab as a “swing and failure.”
Revelation in “The Book”
Millie explained in his opening statement How his two phone calls with his counterpart in China, first described in the book “Danger” by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, were authorized by then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Milley also said Trump’s national security team was fully briefed on the calls, which were intended to reassure China that then-President Donald Trump was not planning a military attack.
“I know, and I’m sure that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese, and that my direct responsibility is my responsibility directed by the Secretary of State, to convey that intent to the Chinese,” Milley said. “My job at the time to de-escalate my message again was consistent, stay calm and steady and de-escalate. We will not attack you.”
He retracted another story in the book that, in a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the January 6 Capitol attack, he agreed with her assessment that Trump was “crazy.”
“I am not qualified to assess the mental fitness or health of a former president or current president or anyone else or anyone in this room,” Milley said. “This is not my job. This is not what I do. This is not what I did.”
Several Republican senators took charge of Millie for providing access to reporters and authors.
“I think what you did was take the time to talk to these authors, polish your image, build that hype, but then you didn’t focus on Afghanistan and what was going on there,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn, Senator from Tennessee. “General Mielle, this is disappointing to me. I know it is disappointing for the people who served with you or under you. It does not serve our nation.”
“You’re doing these interviews and you’re doing it in 2021. It makes me wonder about the books, were I a little distracted about what was happening in Afghanistan?” Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley said, calling for Austin and Millie to resign.