Chairman calls Afghan war a failure

Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP PHOTO

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his first congressional testimony on the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the top U.S. military officer called the 20-year war a “strategic failure” and said he believes the U.S. should have kept several thousand troops in the country to prevent the Taliban takeover that happened faster than forecast.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to say what advice he gave President Joe Biden last spring when Biden was considering whether to keep any troops in Afghanistan. But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee it was his personal opinion that at least 2,500 were needed to guard against a collapse of the Kabul government and a return to Taliban rule.

In a blunt assessment of the outcome to a war that cost 2,461 American lives, Milley called it a strategic failure.

“The enemy is in charge in Kabul,” he noted, referring to the Taliban having taken control of the capital on Aug. 15. “There’s no way else to describe that,” he said, adding that it’s possible the U.S. military’s biggest failure was to make the Afghan military overly dependent on an American presence and technology.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, who as head of Central Command had overseen the final months of the U.S. war, said he agreed with Milley’s assessment. He also declined to say what he had recommended to Biden.

The Senate hearing was at times contentious, as Republicans sought to portray Biden as having ignored advice from military officers and mischaracterized the military options the president was presented last spring and summer.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Milley why he did not choose to resign after his advice was rejected.

Milley, who was appointed to his position as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Donald Trump and retained by Biden, said it was his responsibility to provide the commander in chief with his best advice.

“The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice,” Milley said. “He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we are generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to resign just because my advice was not taken.”

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