When asked if he thought Afghan forces could withstand increased tensions, Milley was not hired.
“Your question: the Afghan army, does it stay together and does it remain a cohesive fighting force or does it collapse? I think there is a range of scenarios here, a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities, ”he said. “On the one hand, you get some really dramatic and bad possible outcomes. On the other hand, you get an army that stays together and a government that stays together. “
“Which of these options gets and comes true at the end of the day?” We frankly don’t know yet. We have to wait and see how things develop over the summer. “
He said there was “at least still the possibility” of a negotiated political settlement between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. This, he said, would avert the “massive civil war” some fear will occur.
About two months after the US-led invasion in October 2001, the country’s Taliban leadership were removed from power and defeated militarily. But within a few years, they had regrouped, rearmed and reaffirmed, taking advantage of the sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. In recent years, the Taliban have reached a stalemate on the battlefield with US-backed Afghan government forces.
Milley noted that the Afghan military has operated in recent years with less reliance on US and coalition advisers. Major exceptions include special operations commandos and the Ministry of Defense.
“But for the most part, there aren’t any advisers out there anyway,” he said in one of his few interviews since President Joe Biden announced on April 14 that everyone US military personnel would withdraw this summer. Milley said the commonly cited total of 2,500 troops rises to 3,300 if special operations forces are included. “We will bring it down to zero,” he said.
Once the withdrawal is complete, the United States will provide unspecified “capabilities” to the Afghan military from other locations, Milley said. He did not give details about it, but other officials said these “on the horizon” arrangements to support the Afghan military have yet to be solidified.
Milley said there was a possibility that the pullout could be completed before the September 11 target date announced by the White House. He said the date reflects the estimated maximum time needed to move all U.S. and coalition troops, as well as large amounts of equipment, out of the country.
“I don’t want to put specific dates there,” he said.