Senators question Milley and Austin on end of war in Afghanistan

Senior US military officers have publicly admitted for the first time that they advised President Biden not to withdraw all US troops fr...

Senior US military officers have publicly admitted for the first time that they advised President Biden not to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan before the chaotic evacuation in which 13 US servicemen were killed.

Appearing before a Senate panel, General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military chiefs were able to provide advice to the president in the run-up to Biden’s decision to step down . But, said the general, “policymakers are not required to follow this advice in any way. “

General Milley testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of Army Central Command. The two men, along with General Milley, are said to have advised Mr Biden not to withdraw all troops. During the hearing, Generals Milley and McKenzie confirmed this.

The senators asked the three men why the Pentagon did not predict the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan army, why the United States had not started to evacuate vulnerable Americans and Afghans from the country more early, what if Mr. Biden had followed their advice to keep a 2,500 counterterrorism force on the ground.

Mr Austin, a former four-star army general who served in Afghanistan, admitted that the collapse of the Afghan army in the last few weeks of the war – in many cases without firing a blow – took the high commanders by surprise.

“We have to take into account some uncomfortable truths: that we have not fully understood the depth of corruption and bad leadership in their senior ranks, that we have not grasped the detrimental effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by the President Ghani of his commanders, that we had not foreseen the snowball effect caused by the agreements that the Taliban commanders made with the local leaders, ”said Mr. Austin, referring to Ashraf Ghani, the former President of Afghanistan who fled the country when the Taliban took control.

“We didn’t fully understand that there weren’t many things that – and for whom – many Afghan forces would be fighting,” Austin said.

The hearing was also the first opportunity for General Milley to criticize his actions during the tumultuous last months of the Trump administration.

“My loyalty to this nation, its people and the Constitution has not changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give,” General Milley said in his opening remarks. “I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a fundamental principle essential to this republic and I am committed to ensuring that the military stays away from domestic politics.”

General Milley used some of his opening comments to address the turmoil of recent revelations in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril”. He said he called his Chinese counterpart on October 30, just before the November presidential elections, because there was “information that led us to believe that the Chinese were worried about an attack on them by the United States.” . He added that senior US officials, including Mark Esper, the defense secretary at the time, and Mike Pompeo, then secretary of state, were aware of the calls.

Mr Austin defended the Biden administration’s decision to shut down the sprawling Bagram Air Base, the army’s main hub in Afghanistan, in early July and instead focus on defending Kabul International Airport in as the main gateway to and from the country, and acknowledged that the Pentagon misjudged the Afghan army’s readiness to fight.

“To keep Bagram, it would have been necessary to endanger up to 5,000 American soldiers, just to exploit and defend it,” Austin told the Senate Armed Forces Committee on the first of two days. Congressional hearings on Afghanistan. “And that would have contributed little to the mission entrusted to us: that of protecting and defending our embassy some thirty kilometers away.”

The secretary also defended the administration’s decision to end the 17-day frenzied evacuation airlift by August 31. -K, ”Austin said, referring to the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan. “Staying longer than we did would have made the situation even more dangerous for our people and would not have significantly changed the number of evacuees we could get out. “

General Milley echoed the danger for US troops exceeding the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

“On September 1, we were going to wage war against the Taliban again,” he said. “It would have resulted in significant losses on the American side and would have put American citizens still on the ground there at significant risk.”

But acknowledging the continuing fallout from the Taliban takeover of the country, General Milley said American credibility around the world had been damaged by the ignominious end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Pressed by Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, General Milley said that “the credibility of the United States with its allies and partners around the world and with its adversaries is being intensely scrutinized by them to see which direction this is going. And I think “damage” is a word that could be used, yes. “

Mr. Austin and Generals Milley and McKenzie are scheduled to testify before a House panel on Wednesday.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Senators question Milley and Austin on end of war in Afghanistan
Senators question Milley and Austin on end of war in Afghanistan
Newsrust - US Top News
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