Former US generals who oversaw the exit from Afghanistan describe the chaos and challenges of the withdrawal

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Afghanistan evacuation a ‘strategic failure’, says former general

Two former generals who led the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 testified before Congress.

Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Kenneth McKenzie, who led US Central Command, testified for the first time since their retirement.

Republican lawmakers blamed President Joe Biden for the disastrous departure, while Democrats blamed the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban.

But the two generals did not seem willing to support either side’s argument.

Instead, they said that both the Biden and Trump administrations had played a role in the disastrous withdrawal, as did the administrations that preceded them.

The Doha deal, an agreement that former President Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban and which set the terms for the United States’ departure, “shattered the morale” of both the Afghan security forces and government, Milley said.

But he later added that the “fundamental flaw” of the US departure had been the timing of the Biden administration’s decision to order a civilian evacuation in Afghanistan. He said it had come “too slow and too late.”

He also emphasized that he had advised senior US officials that the United States “needed to maintain a minimum force of 2,500 soldiers on the ground” to prevent the Taliban from taking control.

“Without this support, my view at the time was that it was a question of ‘when, not if’ the Afghan government would collapse and the Taliban would take control,” Milley said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to flee the country as the Taliban marched on Kabul was then “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

Still, both maintained that no single factor had led to the United States’ failure in Afghanistan, and appeared to support the idea that the United States should review the entire 20-year history of the conflict, not just its conclusion, a point supported by Democrats.

“We helped build an army, a state, but we couldn’t build a nation,” Milley said, calling the result a “strategic failure.”

They also acknowledged that remaining in Afghanistan would likely have put U.S. troops in danger as the Taliban would have restarted their fight with the United States to remain beyond the agreed departure deadline of August 31, McKenzie said, citing intelligence reports. that I had reviewed.

Both men said the Taliban, which they characterized as a terrorist organization, harbored militants who wanted to attack the United States.

“Themselves [the Taliban] “They do not have the desire to attack us or our homeland, but they do harbor entities and organizations that do have the desire to do so,” McKenzie said.

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The hearing was attended by relatives of American soldiers who died in the suicide bombing at Kabul airport and others who served in Afghanistan. They watched as former military leaders gave their sober assessments of the US withdrawal.

As it was the first time the two retired generals had testified since leaving the service, both were able to be more candid in their criticism of American civilian officials and policymakers.

Much of his criticism was directed at the US State Department for not having issued the order to evacuate American civilians months earlier.

McKenzie and Milley testified that the United States did not yet know how many Americans were in Afghanistan and it is unclear how many were able to leave safely.

While much of the audience rehashed old arguments made by Democrats and Republicans, there was some bipartisan news that lawmakers in attendance welcomed.

Michael McCaul, Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, announced that the White House and congressional leaders had agreed to grant 12,000 more special immigrant visas for Afghan citizens helping the United States.

He said it would be included in a budget agreement expected to be approved this week.

Afghanistan war veterans and lawmakers have been fighting to expand the number of visas for Afghan immigrants since there were only about 7,000 left. The United States has been issuing about 1,000 a month recently, raising fears they will run out.

US troops withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years – the country’s longest war ever – leaving many Afghans who supported US forces in danger, particularly as viable exits from the country were closed.

The violent withdrawal affected perceptions of Biden’s international competence. Since then, Republicans have seized on the failed exit as a key line of attack ahead of November’s presidential election.

The Biden administration and Democrats have regularly blamed Donald Trump for negotiating the deal with the Taliban that led to the withdrawal, arguing that his decisions “severely restricted” Biden’s options.

A government watchdog concluded that both administrations were to blame for the disastrous withdrawal that saw Afghan forces overwhelmed.

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