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US military leaders answer for how the war in Afghanistan ended

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Tuesday, 28 September, 2021, 22:36
US military leaders answer for how the war in Afghanistan ended

US military leaders defended the end of the war in Afghanistan but called the conflict a "strategic failure." General Mark Milley warned that terrorist groups could reform within 12 months and attack the US.

Top US military leaders defended the draw down and ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan before the Senate armed services committee Tuesday.

Military leaders including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and US Central Command chief General Frank McKenzie jostled with senators on a host of Afghanistan-related issues ranging from the withdrawal agreement made with the Taliban in Doha in 2020, specifics of the airlift, the generals' advice to the two US presidents who straddled the time between the Doha agreement, and the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

The generals agreed on their advice prior to the August 15 fall of Kabul that a standing force of between 2,500 and 3,500 would have been required to maintain the central government and army of Kabul. They concurred that the Doha agreement had a demoralizing effect on the Afghan army.

Milley emphasized that while the US held up its end of the agreement with the Taliban in Doha, the only condition the Taliban adhered to was to not attack US and NATO coalition forces during the withdrawal phase of the conflict.

On the Kabul airlift
In their opening statements, Austin and Milley emphasized the success of the airlift from the Kabul airport that evacuated 124,000 people in 17 days, and said that a host of lessons needed to be learned from the US' twenty-year military engagement in Afghanistan.

Austin detailed some of the specifics of that airlift, outlining 23 sorties a day that brought 7,000 people out daily on average, with a 40-minute gap between flights taking off from the Kabul airport at the height of the operation. He said it was the largest airlift in US history.

The speed of the airlift, Austin acknowledged, has led to capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside Afghanistan.

Austin also noted there are still US citizens and special immigrant visa holders who were unable to get out of Afghanistan during those 17 days who wish to be out now that the US is still working on evacuating.

"Noncombatant evacuation operations remain among the most difficult," Austin said.

Milley said the drawdown before the eventual end of operations in Afghanistan lasted 10 years, not 17 days. He later called the war a "strategic failure" because "the enemy is in charge in Kabul."

On future counter-terror operations in Afghanistan
Milley was firm the Taliban never disavowed or cut ties with al-Qaeda.

"I have no illusions who we are dealing with," he said.ւ