The nation’s top general testified Tuesday that the American war in Afghanistan ended in “strategic failure,” a grim conclusion that acknowledged a long series of mistakes and miscalculations by the Pentagon’s leaders.
During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that “the enemy is in command in Kabul.” There’s no other way of describing that.
The hearing, which also featured Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., who oversaw operations in Afghanistan, peeled back layer after layer of misconceptions during the longest war in American history:
US military officials trained Afghan forces to be too dependent on advanced technology, they did not appreciate the extent of corruption among local leaders, and they didn’t anticipate how badly the Afghan government would be demoralized by the US withdrawal. These errors, according to Pentagon leaders, allowed the Taliban to rise far faster than US officials anticipated.
Intelligence reports suggesting the Afghan forces could hold off for longer were “a swing and a miss,” Milley said.
Trump’s administration had reached an agreement with Taliban to withdraw US troops by May 1. This was less than three months after Trump left office.
Biden decided to continue with the withdrawal because he believed that it was not worthwhile to support the Afghan government. He extended the deadline to Aug. 31.
Biden claimed that some military leaders had not recommended leaving troops in Afghanistan, but Tuesday’s testimony corroborated this claim. McKenzie said he supported 2,500 service members in Afghanistan, a recommendation that was made by Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who commanded US forces there until July.
He said that he was there when the discussion took place and that he believed the president listened to all of the recommendations.
McKenzie also said it was his belief that pulling out all US troops “would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and eventually the Afghan government.”
It was an unusually public airing of divisions between the president and military leaders — one that will probably reverberate through Washington as Biden continues to face political fallout over the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Milley also delivered a vehement defense of two calls he made to his Chinese counterpart, saying he was responding to a “significant degree of intelligence” that China was worried about a US attack.
“I know, I am certain, that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese.… And it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Milley stated that my task was to de-escalate. My message was again consistent: Keep calm, steady and de-escalate. “We are not going after you.”