WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. military officer called the 20-year war in Afghanistan a “strategic failure” and acknowledged to Congress that he had favored keeping several thousand troops in the country to prevent a collapse of the U.S.-supported Kabul government and a rapid takeover by the Taliban.
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee cited the testimony Tuesday of General Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff as evidence that President Joe Biden has been lying. Milley said last month that the military did not urge him to keep troops in Afghanistan.
Milley did not reveal the advice he gave Biden last Spring when Biden was considering whether or not to accept an agreement made by the Trump administration with the Taliban to reduce American troop levels to zero by May 2021. This ended a U.S. conflict that started in October 2001. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was also testifying with Milley refused to disclose his advice to Biden.
Milley and Austin were both appearing before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday to discuss the war.
Milley informed the Senate committee Tuesday that he believes at least 2,500 U.S. troops would be needed to protect against the collapse of Kabul’s government or a return to Taliban control.
In mid-August, the Afghan government collapsed along with its U.S.-trained military. This allowed the Taliban to take over Kabul. They had ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Milley described the Taliban as just a few hundred motorcycle-riding men. The U.S. began a rush to evacuate Afghan civilians and other Afghan allies from Kabul Airport.
As head of Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie said that he agreed Milley’s view about keeping the Kabul government intact by maintaining a residual force.
McKenzie stated that he recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and that 4,500 be maintained at the same time. These were his personal views. “I was also convinced that withdrawal of these forces would result in the collapse of Afghan military forces, and ultimately the Afghan government.”
The start of a congressional review of U.S. actions in Afghanistan was marked by the six-hour Senate hearing. This hearing was a stark contrast to the years of very limited oversight by Congress of the war in Afghanistan and the many billions of taxpayer dollars that it cost.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who supported Biden’s decision to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, said that “the Republicans’ sudden interest is plain old politics.”
At times, the hearing was contentious as Republicans tried to portray Biden’s inability to listen or misunderstand the military options presented to him last summer and spring.
Many Republicans tried unsuccessfully, to get Austin, McKenzie, and Milley to comment on the truthfulness Biden’s August 18 statement to ABC News that no senior military commander had endorsed a troop withdrawal, three days after the Taliban gained control of Kabul. This was just three days after the Taliban seized control of Kabul.
Biden answered the question, “No.” That was something that no one ever said to me. He also stated that the advice had been “divided.”
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary said Tuesday that Biden was talking about having received several types of advice.
She stated, “Regardless if the advice is good or bad, it’s his decision. He’s the commander-in-chief.”
Milley bluntly stated that the war cost 2,461 American deaths and was years in the making.
Milley stated that the outcome of a war such as this is a strategic failure. He said that the enemy was in control in Kabul and that there is no other way to describe it. He also suggested that lessons must be learned. One example is whether the U.S. military made Afghans too dependent on American technology in an attempt to make the Afghan army look more like the American army.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas questioned Milley about why he didn’t choose to resign when his advice was rejected.
Milley was appointed as the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff by Donald Trump. Biden retained Milley because he believed it was his responsibility for providing the commander in chief the best advice.
Milley stated that the president does not have to accept this advice. Milley said, “He doesn’t have to take those decisions because we are generals.” A commissioned officer would have to resign if my advice was not followed. This would be an extraordinary act of political defiance.
Austin supported the execution of the frantic airlift from Kabul by the military in August. He stated that it would be “difficult, but absolutely possible” for future threats to Afghanistan without having troops on the ground.
Milley stated that there was “a very real chance” that al-Qaida’s affiliate in Afghanistan or Islamic State could reorganize in Afghanistan under Taliban control and present a terrorist threat in the United States over the next 12 to36 months.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in September 2001 after al-Qaida used Afghanistan to launch and execute their attacks on the United States.
Milley stated, “And we have to remember that the Taliban is and remains a terrorist group and they still do not break ties with al Qaida.” “I don’t have any illusions about who we are dealing. It remains to see if the Taliban will consolidate their power or if the country will fracture further into civil war.
Austin challenged decisions made during the U.S. war on Afghanistan over the past 20 years. He said that the American government might have placed too much faith in its ability build a functioning Afghan government.
He told the Senate committee that while we helped to build a state, we couldn’t forge a nation. “The fact that the Afghan Army we and our partners trained just melted away, in many cases without firing one shot, took us all by surprise. It would be untruessful to say otherwise.
Milley was asked why the United States didn’t see the Afghan army collapse quickly. He said that he felt the U.S. military had lost its ability to understand and assess the condition of Afghan forces after it stopped having advisers along with the Afghans in combat.
Milley stated, “You cannot measure the human heart using a machine. You have to be there.”