The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said on Tuesday (September 28) that the U.S. missed warning signs about the coming failure of “leadership and will” in its Afghan allies that ultimately led to their collapse and the Taliban takeover on August 15th.
Milley made the remarks in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were questioned by Republicans and Democrats about the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal.
Republican lawmakers accused President Joe Biden of lying about recommendations from his military that some troops should be kept in the country. And even Biden’s Democrats expressed frustration with the withdrawal that left U.S. troops dead and American citizens behind.
Milley refused to be drawn on whether Biden had lied when pressed by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan
“I’m not going to categorize a statement of the President of the United States,” Milley said.
Biden’s approval ratings have been badly damaged by last month’s spectacular collapse of the two-decade-old war effort, marked by painful images of Afghans clinging desperately to a U.S. military plane as they tried to escape Taliban rule.
Thirteen U.S. troops also died in an Aug. 26 suicide bombing trying to safeguard the civilian evacuation effort that, ultimately, relied on support from Taliban foes outside the airport walls.
Milley, Austin, and General Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command all acknowledged being caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban takeover following the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
McKenzie and Milley both testified that they had believed it would have been best to keep a minimum of 2,500 troops in the country. In an August interview, Biden denied his commanders had recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Milley, the top U.S. military officer, noted military warnings since late 2020 that an accelerated, unconditional withdrawal could precipitate the collapse of the Afghan military and government.
Democrats faulted Republicans for blaming Biden, who has been president since January, for everything that went wrong during the 20 years U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan.
“Anyone who says the last few months were a failure, but everything before that was great, clearly hasn’t been paying attention,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
Austin praised U.S. personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country.
But Milley acknowledged that while the evacuation effort was a logistical accomplishment, the U.S. withdrawal was a “strategic defeat” that left the Taliban back in power.
He warned the Taliban “remains a terrorist organization” which has not broken ties with al Qaeda.
(Production: Ashraf Fahim)