Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley offered senators a blunt assessment of the hasty U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “It was a logistical success, but a strategic failure,” Milley told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. He suggested the war had been lost, but touted the U.S. military effort that evacuated more than 124,000 people in the final weeks of the U.S. presence in the country.
The nation’s top military officials — Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie — faced tough questioning, insults and calls for their resignation from Congress in their first appearance before lawmakers since the withdrawal.
Austin anticipated questions about the execution of the withdrawal in his opening statement. “Was it perfect?” he asked. “Of course not,” though he, too, took note of the evacuation.
In mid-April, President Biden announced that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11, a date he later moved up to August 31.
The military leaders Tuesday said publicly that they had recommended to Mr. Biden that the U.S. maintain a residual force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the level that was in place at the end of the Trump administration. McKenzie said he was confident the president heard the recommendations and listened carefully.
Once Mr. Biden had made his decision, the U.S. military began carrying out the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which was effectively finished in July with the closure of Bagram Air Base, the largest military base in Afghanistan.
The administration had intended to keep the embassy in Kabul open to continue to engage with the Afghan government, but in just 11 days in August, the Afghan military forces and government collapsed, surprising U.S. officials.
“There’s no intel assessment that says the government’s going to collapse and the military is going to collapse in 11 days,” Milley told senators.