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Friday, October 22, 2021

Top US general admits ‘strategic failure’ in hasty Afghanistan withdrawal


The Taliban accused the US of violating the Doha agreement.

A top US general said the hasty troop withdrawal in Afghanistan last month was “a logistical success but a strategic failure” during a hearing at the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Tuesday.

“My analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal, without meeting specific and necessary conditions, risks losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, damaging US worldwide credibility and could precipitate a general collapse of the NSF and the Afghan government, resulting in a complete Taliban takeover, or general civil war,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley.

Milley along with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and General Frank McKenzie appeared before Congress for questioning on the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.

“It is clear and obvious that the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul,” said General Milley, warning that Afghanistan is headed towards a civil war.

The comments come as Washington continues to face heavy criticism for the 20-year invasion of Afghanistan, which has done little to bring peace to the country and ended with a complete Taliban takeover of the country.

The troop withdrawal was conducted without a proper peace plan which in turn led to chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport last month. This was further exacerbated with the resurgence of ISIS-K, or ISKP, which launched a deadly attack on the facility.

Republicans have since demanded more details on the IS affiliate’s suicide bombing at Kabul airport, where at least 175 Afghans and 13 members of the US military were killed.

Legislators are also expected to address the subsequent US drone attack that killed 10 Afghan civilians.

In a statement made by US President Joe Biden ahead in the lead up to the pullout, he said it was up to Afghan forces – trained by the Americans – to fight their own battles.

But despite the billions spent on training, the army appeared to be unprepared to take on the Taliban.

“The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained, simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” Austin told Congress during the hearing.

Milley and McKenzie also said they had warned of the collapse of the western-backed government in Kabul if the US went ahead with withdrawing all of its troops.

“My view is that 2,500 was an appropriate number to remain and that if we went below that number, in fact, we would probably witness a collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan military,” said McKenzie.

Imposing foreign regimes ‘unsustainable’, Qatar’s FM says on US Afghanistan withdrawal

In February last year, under the former Donald Trump administration, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

The US said it would go ahead with the withdrawal if the Taliban halted its support for terrorist organisations.

However, President Biden changed the deadline to 11 September this year – before it was later revised to 31 August – without conditions.

This allowed the Taliban to act with impunity, launching a mass offensive that led to rapid territorial gains before eventually capturing Kabul.

Commenting on the collapse of the Afghan military and speed of the Taliban takeover, McKenzie said he “did not foresee it to be days” and “thought it would take months”.

Milley also told the Senate that the Taliban did not abide by the Doha agreement and that former president Trump told him to proceed with the withdrawal after the elections in November.

He was later told to conduct a military drawdown instead and reduce the number of US forces to 2,500.

The top US generals also came under fire after admitting that the 29 August drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians – most of whom children – as a “mistake”. The officials attempted to justify the attack saying they believed an ISIS-K vehicle at the scene contained explosives.

US announces era of ‘diplomacy’ following Afghanistan withdrawal

Following disturbing reports of the strike, and despite global condemnation, General Milley defended it by saying “it was a righteous strike”.

White House response

Following the hearing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the military advisers were “split” over maintaining American forces in Kabul, despite also noting they had advised the administration to keep some troops on the ground.

“No they didn’t. It was split. That wasn’t true. It was split,” Psaki said, commenting on whether the military officials made those recommendations.

“There was a range of viewpoints, as was evidenced by their testimony, presented to the president and presented to his national security team, as would be expected, as he asked for – he asked for a clear-eyed – he asked them not to sugar coat it – what their recommendations were,” Psaki said.

She also stressed that the president “made clear the advice was split” and that “the American people should know the president is always going to welcome a range of advice”.

“If there is conflicting advice given, by necessity, some people’s advice will not be taken,” added Psaki.

Last week, the US Senate also grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Washington’s handling of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal.

New Jersey Democrat Bob Mendez even threatened to subpoena Defence Minister Lloyd Austin along with other members of the administration, describing the US and NATO troop withdrawal as “fatally flawed”.

Renewed Taliban warnings

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Taliban warned of consequences if the US does not stop launching drones into Afghan airspace.

“The United States, by operating these aircrafts in Afghanistan, violated all international rights and laws, as well as a commitment it made to the Taliban in Doha, State of Qatar,” the group said in a Twitter statement.

The militant group also called on countries, including the US, to treat Afghanistan in accordance with international rights in order to avoid any negative consequences.

This week, Taliban-appointed Minister of Justice in the interim Afghan government Abdul Hakim Sharia said the group will implement the 1964 constitution of King Muhammad Zahir Shah for a temporary period “without applying any content that contradicts Islamic law and the principles of the Islamic Emirate”.

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