by Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor
WASHINGTON (AP) – A top US military official called the 20-year war in Afghanistan a “strategic failure” and admitted to Congress on Tuesday that he supported keeping several thousand troops in the country to prevent the fall of US-backed Kabul. Was. Rapid takeover by the government and the Taliban.
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee pointed to the testimony of General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as evidence that President Joe Biden was untrue when, in a television interview last month, he suggested that the military had not urged him to keep the army in Afghanistan.
Milley declined to say what advice he had given to Biden last spring when Biden was considering whether the Trump administration could strike a deal with the Taliban to void US military presence by May 2021. It followed, ending the US war that began in October 2001. Testifying with Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also declined to share his advice to Biden.
Milley told the committee, when pressed, that it was his personal opinion that at least 2,500 American troops were needed for the fall of the Kabul government and return to Taliban rule.
Defying US intelligence assessments, the Afghan government and its US-trained military collapsed in mid-August, allowing the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, to take over Kabul, which Miley said. Described as a couple of hundred men on motorcycles. without firing a shot. This triggered a frantic US effort to evacuate American citizens, Afghan allies and others from Kabul airport.
General Frank McKenzie, who as head of Central Command overseeing US troops in Afghanistan, said he shared Milley’s view that keeping a residual force there could keep the Kabul government intact.
“I had recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended in early fall 2020 that we retain 4,500 at that time, these were my personal views,” McKenzie said. “I was also of the view that the withdrawal of those forces would inevitably lead to the downfall of the Afghan military forces and ultimately the Afghan government.”
The six-hour Senate hearing marked the beginning of what was likely to be an expanded congressional review of US failures in Afghanistan. The length and depth of the hearings contrasted with years of limited congressional oversight of the war and consumed hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
“The sudden interest of Republicans in Afghanistan is plain old politics,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who supported Biden’s decision to end America’s involvement there.
Austin and Milley are due to appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to review the war.
The hearing was controversial at times, as Republicans sought to portray Biden as ignoring the advice of military officials and falsified the military options presented to him last spring and summer.
Several Republicans met to comment on the veracity of Biden’s statement to ABC News on August 18, three days after the Taliban took control of Kabul, an unsuccessful attempt to lure McKenzie and Austin, that any senior military commander. did not recommend against a complete withdrawal. This was discussed in the first months of Biden’s tenure.
When asked in that interview whether military advisers had recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, Biden replied, “No. Nobody told me that I could remember.” He also said that the advice was “divided.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden was talking about getting a variety of advice.
“Despite the advice, it is his decision, he is the commander in chief,” she said.
In a blunt assessment of the war that took 2,461 American lives, Milley said the outcome was years in the making.
“The result in such a war, the result of a strategic failure – the enemy is in charge in Kabul, there is no other way to describe it – it is the cumulative effect of 20 years,” he said, adding that the lesson needed to be learned. including whether the US military made Afghans highly dependent on US technology in a false attempt to make the Afghan army look like the US military.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked Milley why he did not choose to resign after his advice was rejected.
Milley, who was appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Donald Trump and retained by Biden, said it was his responsibility to provide the commander in chief with his best advice.
“The president doesn’t have to agree to that advice,” Milley said. “He doesn’t have to take a decision just because we are the commanders. And it would be an unbelievable act of political disobedience for a commissioned officer to resign just because my advice was not taken. “
Austin defended the military’s execution of a frantic airlift from Kabul in August, saying it would be “difficult but absolutely possible” to stop future threats from Afghanistan without troops on the ground.
Milley cited “a very real possibility” that an Afghan affiliate of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group could regroup in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and present a terroristic threat to the United States in the next 12 to 36 months. could.
Afghanistan was used as a base by al-Qaeda to plan and execute its attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, which triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan a month later.
“And we must remember that the Taliban was and still is a terrorist organization and they still haven’t severed ties with al-Qaeda,” Milley said. “I have no illusions as to who we are dealing with. It remains to be seen whether the Taliban is able to consolidate power or whether the country will break into civil war further.”
Austin questioned decisions made during 20 years of the American war in Afghanistan. Looking back, he said, the US government may have too much confidence in its ability to form a viable Afghan government.
“We helped build a state, but we couldn’t build a nation,” he told the Senate committee. “The fact that the Afghan army we trained and our allies thawed easily – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
Asked why the United States did not foresee the rapid collapse of the Afghan army, Milley said that in his decision the US military lost the ability to see and understand the real situation of Afghan forces when he had consulted a few years ago. The practice of keeping was abolished. With the Afghans on the battlefield.
“You can’t measure a human heart with a machine, you have to be there,” Milley said.