Afghanistan: the American military hierarchy tries to explain to Congress its “strategic failure”

There’s a lot going on in the US Congress at the same time. The Democratic Party is in turmoil over two major socio-economic bills promised by Joe Biden, on infrastructure and the welfare state. At the same time, hearings are continuing on the catastrophic military withdrawal from Afghanistan, completed a month ago. Tuesday, September 28, the turn had come for senior military officials to deliver their version of a “strategic failure” to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Central Command Chief General Kenneth McKenzie have been put to the test. The conclusion was clear: the military hierarchy was in favor of maintaining a force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. General McKenzie, who even put forward the figure of 4,500 men in the fall of 2020, justified this analysis by the fear of a collapse of the Afghan forces before the Taliban, even if no one foresaw such a rapid process.

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Asked on August 19 on the ABC channel about the Pentagon’s desire to keep 2,500 soldiers there, Joe Biden had nevertheless replied: ” No. As far as I can remember, no one told me that. “ Was the president lying then?, Launched Tuesday, the Republican senator from Alaska Dan Sullivan. “I will not qualify a statement by the President of the United States”General Milley replied cautiously. Asked about the temptation of a resignation, the high-ranking officer rejected this idea. “The president doesn’t have to agree with my advice. He doesn’t have to make these decisions just because we’re generals. “

At the White House on Tuesday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki pointed out that “The advice had been shared”, around the president, on the various withdrawal options.

American shortcomings

The second nuance made during this hearing concerns the date on which the senior officers, unanimously, gave their support for a full military withdrawal to August 31: only six days earlier, when the Taliban had taken control of the country since August 15. Here too, Robert Milley has distanced himself from the political choices made under Donald Trump, then Joe Biden. “My advice is: do not set a specific date”, he said of the military withdrawal, preferring an approach based on conditionality.

Robert Milley recognized the failure of the American intelligence services, unable to anticipate the collapse of an army equipped and trained for twenty years. “You can count all the planes, trucks, vehicles and cars and machine guns … But you cannot measure the human heart with a machine”, he summed up, with reference to Afghan demoralization, accelerated in August by the flight of President Ashraf Ghani. The latter is now in the United Arab Emirates, according to Lloyd Austin.

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