Military leaders say they advised Biden to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan
The head of the US Central Command confirmed media reports that he recommended that the United States maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and that he believed that the withdrawal of these forces “would inevitably lead to the collapse of the Afghan military forces. and possibly the Afghan government “.
Why is this important: Biden denied last month that his top military advisers wanted the troops to stay in Afghanistan, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “No one told me that if I remember.”
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told Congress that, like CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie, it was also his “personal opinion” that the United States kept 2,500 troops in. Afghanistan.
- But Milley stressed, “I am obligated and military commanders are obligated to give our best military advice, but policymakers are not obligated to follow that advice.”
The big picture: Key Pentagon leaders have come under scrutiny in the series of disasters that followed the US exit. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Milley and McKenzie testify before Congress for the first time since the withdrawal.
The last: “I think our credibility with allies and partners around the world and with adversaries is being scrutinized by them intensely to see which direction this is going to go. And I think ‘pity’ is a word that could be used, yes,” Milley told the senators.
- On the chaotic evacuation: Austin said in his opening statement that military leaders started planning a non-combat evacuation of Kabul as early as the spring, and that is the only reason American troops were able to launch the operation so quickly when the Taliban captured the city. “Was that perfect? Of course not,” Austin admitted.
- About the abandonment of the Bagram air base: Austin told senators that maintaining Bagram, the center of US operations in Afghanistan for two decades, would have required 5,000 additional troops and provided little value for evacuation efforts. “Staying in Bagram – even for counterterrorism purposes – meant staying at war in Afghanistan, which the president made clear he would not do,” Austin said.
- On the collapse of the Afghan security forces: “We helped build a state, but we couldn’t forge a nation,” Austin said. shot, took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise. “
- On withdrawal recommendations: Milley said in an opening statement that his analysis in the fall of 2020 was that a rapid withdrawal from the United States without the Taliban meeting specific conditions could lead to the collapse of the Afghan government and damage the credibility of the States- United. “That was a year ago. My assessment has remained constant,” Milley said.
- On the Trump-Taliban peace deal: Milley and McKenzie both said they believed the Doha Agreement had damaged the morale of Afghan soldiers, as well as their ability to conduct operations.
- On Russian bases in Central Asia: Austin denied that the United States had asked Vladimir Putin for permission to use Russian military bases to launch counterterrorism operations against targets in Afghanistan, but confirmed that Milley was seeking “clarification” on a Putin offer regarding this. question.
Why is this important: Key Pentagon leaders have come under scrutiny in the series of disasters that followed the US exit, including the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the ISIS-K terrorist attack that killed 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghans in August, and US retaliatory drone strike that killed 10 civilians.
- Austin, Milley and McKenzie testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
- The hearings, which come after Secretary of State Tony Blinken became Biden’s first senior official to testify on Afghanistan earlier this month, are just the beginning – bipartisan congressional leaders have pledged to lead in-depth investigations into the failures of the 20 Years’ War.
Go further: Milley separately sent new revelations that he reassured his Chinese counterparts in the final months of the Trump presidency that Trump would not launch a surprise attack on China.
This story is developing. Please check for updates.