WASHINGTON – In their first congressional testimony in the final months of America’s longest war, top US military officials on Tuesday unfairly acknowledged the fragility of Afghanistan’s military and said they believe the US should Should have kept at least several thousand soldiers. Rapid takeover by Taliban.
Without explaining what advice he had given to President Joe Biden last spring when Biden was considering keeping any troops in Afghanistan, General Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was his personal opinion that the collapse would lead to At least 2,500 were needed for protection against the Kabul government.
General Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the final months of the US war as head of Central Command, said he agreed with Milley’s assessment. He also declined to say what he recommended to Biden.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. 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. “
Testifying with Milley and McKenzie, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin defended the military’s execution of a frantic airlift from Kabul, saying it would be “difficult but absolutely possible” to stop future threats from Afghanistan without troops on the ground. During questioning, he also declined to divulge what advice he had advised Biden about withdrawing the entire army.
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 Armed Services 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.
Austin acknowledged shortcomings in the final airlift that began on 14 August from Hamid Karzai International Airport, such as an initial wave of violence in and near the airfield that resulted in the deaths of many Afghan civilians. But he insisted the airlift was a historic achievement that removed 124,000 people from the Taliban regime.
“To be clear, those first two days were tough,” said Austin, who is a veteran of the war. “We all looked with alarm at the images of Afghans racing down the runway and our planes. We all remember the confusion outside the airport. But within 48 hours, our troops restored order, and the process started gaining momentum. “
The Biden administration faced criticism on several fronts for its handling of the final months of the war.
James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Panel, told Austin and Milley that withdrawal and evacuation amounted to an “avoidable disaster.”
Republicans in particular have intensified their attacks on President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan by August 30, saying it has made the US more vulnerable to terrorism. They are demanding more information about the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 US service members in the final days of their return.
General Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as Chief of Central Command, testified with Austin and Milley.
Inhofe has presented the Pentagon with a long list of questions about several aspects of the withdrawal, including the August 26 suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport that killed some 169 Afghans in addition to US service members. . He is also seeking information on decision-making over the summer as it became clear the Taliban was taking a toll on US-backed Afghan forces.
“We need a full account of every factor and decision that has led us to this day and a realistic plan to keep America from moving forward,” Inhofe wrote last week.
The withdrawal ended the longest war in American history. The Biden administration, and some Democrats in Congress, have argued that former President Donald Trump bears some of the blame for the war that ended in a Taliban victory, as his administration signed a deal with the Taliban in 2020, in which A full American withdrawal was promised by May. 2021. He also pointed to the failure of the US to build an Afghan army that could take on the Taliban.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican problem. These failures are manifesting in the four presidential administrations of both political parties,” said Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I, a day after Kabul was captured by the Taliban on August 15 .
Although Tuesday’s hearing was set to focus on Afghanistan, other topics were sure to come up, including the actions of Milley during the final months of Trump’s presidency.
Some in Congress have accused Millie of infidelity for the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which was reported as an assurance to a Chinese general that the US had no plans to attack China. and if it does, Miley will warn him. in advance. In the days following news accounts reporting the book, Milley declined to comment in detail, instead telling reporters that he would give his answers directly to Congress. His only comment has been that the calls with the Chinese were routine and well within his job duties and responsibilities.
Both Milley and Austin have defended the execution by US forces of the withdrawal of Afghanistan that Biden ordered in April. By early July the pullout was largely complete, but several hundred soldiers were stationed in Kabul, along with some defensive equipment, to protect the American diplomatic presence in the capital. The State Department initially said that diplomats would remain until August 31 after the troop withdrawal was completed, but when Afghan forces collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, leaving the Taliban, a frantic evacuation ensued.