Top United States Defence officials were questioned by US Senate Armed Services Committee over President Joe Biden administration’s handling of the chaotic withdrawal of the country’s troops from Afghanistan, leaving the coutnry to be captured by Taliban.
Washington DC [US], September 29 : Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie faced questions from the committee. Biden faced questions on the US leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan after McKenzie and Milley disclosed that they had recommended it, as Biden was debating about the withdrawal of forces.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday defended Biden and said, without getting into specifics, that he received diverse recommendations from advisers. Psaki also said the risks associated with remaining in Afghanistan – war with the Taliban and more U.S. casualties – were too high for Biden and that the U.S. would have had to surge more troops to the country in order to stay militarily involved.
“We’re not talking about long-term recommendations. There was no one who said, ‘Five years from now, we could have 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable’,” said Psaki.
Over the phone calls with the Chinese counterpart during the last days of the Trump Administration, Milley offered an intense defence.
The call with the Chinese counterpart was made by Milley to assure him that the US would not attack them.
“My job at that time was to de-escalate. My message again was consistent: stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. We are not going to attack you,” he said.
Austin said that military officials had discussed the possibilities of collapse but no one had actually planned about the possibility of the fall of the Ghani government so quick, as it did.
“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” Austin said in his opening statement.
Milley, meanwhile, offered a more blunt assessment: “We absolutely missed the rapid 11-day collapse of the Afghan military and the collapse of their government,” he said, noting that most intelligence assessments indicated a collapse could occur in late fall at the earliest, reported The Hill.
“Kabul was taken with a couple of hundred guys on motorcycles and there wasn’t a shot fired. So my question to myself, is how do we miss that? What happened? How did that happen? And that’s one of the things we’ve got to figure out. How is it that an army of that size – they were trained, they were manned, they’re equipped, etc. – how is it that the factors of will, leadership and morale just collapse like that?” Milley said.
Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 under which the US agreed to remove its forces from Afghan soil only if the Taliban promised not to allow any terrorist organisation to use Afghanistan as a launchpad for the attacks.
McKenzie showed a possibility of the US forces going back to Afghan soil if the deal was under threat.
“I think we’re always going to reserve the right to go in to go after ISIS and al Qaeda targets as they present themselves,” McKenzie said.
“I do not trust the Taliban. I do not consider the Taliban to be a reliable partner, and any time you deal with the Taliban you have to look at what they do and not what they say,” he said.
It is still ‘too early to tell’ if there would be a terror threat on the United States after the US forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan, Milley stated.