United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley in their testimonies before Congress have acknowledged a number of failures and irregularities that led to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

General Milley while warning about the presence of a threat of civil war in Afghanistan said, “It is clear and obvious that the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul.”

Secretary Austin said, “We need to consider some uncomfortable truths that we didn’t fully comprehend.”

“The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained, simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” Austin said.

The comments of top US military officials, along with General Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command who oversaw the withdrawal were the most elaborating public comments from Pentagon leaders since the August 30 withdrawal.

Milley and McKenzie said that they had alerted their professional military assessments that Kabul’s Western-backed government would collapse if the US withdrew all the troops.

Milley called the withdrawal a strategic failure and said, “My analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal, without meeting specific and necessary conditions, risks losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, damaging US worldwide credibility and could precipitate a general collapse of the NSF and the Afghan government, resulting in a complete Taliban takeover, or general civil war.”

General McKenzie said that he had also predicted that Kabul would fall if the US withdrew.

He added, “My view is that 2,500 was an appropriate number to remain and that if we went below that number, in fact, we would probably witness a collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan military.”

Earlier, a deal reached by the administration of US President Donald Trump with the Taliban signed in February 2020 set May 1, 2021, as a date to fully withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan. The US pullout was supposed to be based on conditions fulfilled by the Taliban.

Milley told the Senate that he had received an order from President Trump after the US election in November to proceed with the complete withdrawal of US troops. He added that after discussing the risks with the White House, the order was revised to reducing US forces to 2,500.

Milley also said that the Taliban had not abided by the conditions of the agreement.

Upon taking the office on 11 January, President Joe Biden conducted a review in April regarding the withdrawal from Afghanistan and ordered a full withdrawal to till September 11, then revised that date to August 31.

Austin and Milley faced particularly charged questions from Republicans, who have accused the Biden administration of misreading the situation in Afghanistan, failing to predict how quickly the Taliban would rise, and leaving the US more vulnerable to attacks from groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

Republicans also demanded more details on the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) suicide bombing near Kabul international airport that killed about 175 Afghans and 13 members of the US military in the waning days of the evacuation. Legislators are also expected to address the subsequent US drone attack that killed 10 Afghan civilians.

US military officials had initially said that the August 29 bombing killed ISKP facilitators, but later retracted from the claim admitting they were all civilians including seven children.

The committee’s ranking Republican, James Inhofe in a lengthy list of questions wrote, “We need a full accounting of every factor and decision that led us to where we are today and a real plan for defending America moving forward.”

Legislators asked how the US intelligence and military community failed to predict the swiftness of the Taliban’s rise, as the group entered Kabul on August 15 following a lightning-fast offensive across the country that saw little resistance from the Afghan forces US had trained and sponsored for years.

McKenzie replied, “I did not foresee it to be days. I thought it would take months,”

While criticism of the withdrawal extends across party lines, Democrats have claimed that Trump bears a large part of the blame stemming from his initial withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, which did not include the Afghan government in power at the time or require a political resolution between the warring parties.

On Wednesday, the top Pentagon officials will appear before the House Armed Services Committee. Advocates say thousands of vulnerable Afghans including many who worked for the US government have been left behind.

Biden’s position

Biden responded to media’s questions on Tuesday after the generals blamed him for the failed Afghanistan withdrawal saying that the military officials have warned the President against the repercussions of the hasty withdrawal.

To the question from a journalist who asserted that US generals have warned him against the withdrawal quoting the generals, the President answered, “No, they didn’t. It was split. Tha- that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.”

Biden said that he was informed “not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops. They didn’t argue against that,”

Biden added, “So no one told – your military advisors did not tell you. No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that?’”

the ABC journalist asked again. “No! No one said that to me that I can recall,” Biden replied.

The story was filed by the News Desk.
The Desk can be reached at info@thecorrespondent.com.pk.

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