The top US military commander said the credibility of the United States had been damaged as a result of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The admission, from General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was one of many important revelations from a long session with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
The general was joined by the head of the US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a day of intense questioning by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Among the revelations, it emerged that:
- Top US military commanders had recommended President Biden keep at least 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, a recommendation the president said had not been given.
- The military commanders had been completely surprised by the speed at which the Afghan army was collapsing.
- America’s ability to defend itself against a terrorist threat from Afghanistan is diminished.
In separate comments at the same hearing, General Milley also revealed remarkable details of conversations he had with his Chinese counterpart over a Chinese concern that former President Donald Trump planned to address. .
On Afghanistan, General Milley was asked if he thought the chaotic withdrawal last month had damaged America’s credibility.
The general said: “I think our credibility with allies and partners around the world, and with adversaries, is being intensely scrutinized by them to see which direction this is going to go, and I think the damage is a word that could be used. “
His boss, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who also testified, disagreed.
“I think our credibility has remained strong …” said Secretary Austin, a former general. “It is clear that there will be people who will question things in the future.”
A central theme of the interrogation was the extent to which the generals had warned the president of the consequences of a full military withdrawal.
The commander of Centcom (US Central Command), General McKenzie, said he recommended that the United States maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, a recommendation with which General Milley said he agreed.
The testimony appears to contradict President Biden’s contention to the contrary in an interview last month.
“I also believed that the withdrawal of these forces would inevitably lead to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and possibly the Afghan government,” General McKenzie said.
“I have consistently stated that my position was this: if you go below 2500 you are going to witness a collapse of the Afghan army, I did not foresee that it would take days … I thought it would take months.”
General Milley said: “In the fall of 2020, my analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal without fulfilling the specific and necessary conditions risked losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, damaging the credibility of the United States around the world, and could precipitate a general collapse of the Afghan government, resulting in a total Taliban takeover or a general civil war.
He added: “It was a year ago, my assessment has remained constant throughout.”
Republican lawmakers have reacted angrily to the president, a position summed up by the words of Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who said: “President Biden lied when he told the American people that no one had urged him to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
“Today, under oath, General McKenzie flatly contradicted the President. This is the worst American foreign policy disaster in a generation and the President is trying to cover his ass with political twists.”
In one of the few interviews President Biden gave last month to defend his Afghan policy, he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that military advisers had not warned him about repatriating troops or that at least 2,500 were needed to prevent a Taliban takeover.
“Nobody told me that if I remember correctly,” he told Stephanopoulos.
On the collapse of the Afghan armed forces, which had been trained for years by US and other NATO forces to have the ability to be self-sufficient, the generals were candid in their confession.
“The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners formed simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise,” Austin said. “It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.
“At the end of the day, we couldn’t give them the will to win,” Austin conceded.
The chaos that unfolded at Kabul airport as tens of thousands of Afghans and other foreign nationals attempted to escape the Taliban takeover ultimately resulted in the deaths of 13 US soldiers and one erroneous American airstrike that killed 10 Afghans including 7 children.
The US military was trying to target Islamic State militants.
In separate comments, General Milley was asked about conversations he had with his Chinese counterpart during the final days of the Trump presidency.
It emerged in recently published books on this presidency that General Milley spoke to Chinese General Li Zoucheng twice in October 2020 and January 8, 2021, just two days after Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol. .
It had been suggested that General Milley had acted inappropriately in making these calls and that he was undermining the Commander-in-Chief, President Trump.
But obviously, the general defended himself, affirming that his duties were to “defuse military actions, manage crises and prevent war between great powers armed with nuclear weapons”.
“I have personally informed both Secretary of State Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows of the appeal, among other matters.”
Without providing classified details, the general revealed that US officials gathered information that the Chinese fear America is planning an attack on China.
He said the calls, part of a standard line of communication with his Chinese counterpart, were intended to reassure China that the United States was not planning an attack.
He told the committee that he was “certain” that President Trump “did not intend to attack the Chinese, and it is my direct responsibility to convey presidential orders and intent.”
He also referred to a conversation he had with President Nancy Pelosi in which she inquired about “the president’s ability to launch nuclear weapons.”
General Milley said: “I have sought to assure him that the nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process… There are processes, protocols and procedures in place and I have assured him on several occasions that there was no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch. “
He added that he was “not qualified to determine the mental health of the President of the United States.”