Washington – In his first congressional testimony on America’s turbulent withdrawal from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday defended the military’s execution of a frantic airlift from Kabul, saying preventing future threats from Afghanistan without military was “difficult but absolutely possible”. Land.
Speaking with General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Austin also questioned decisions made over the 20-year course of the US war in Afghanistan. Looking back, he said, the US government may have too much confidence in its ability to form a viable Afghan government.
“We helped build a state, but we couldn’t build a nation,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The fact that the Afghan army that we and our allies trained thawed easily – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
Austin acknowledged shortcomings in the final airlift that began on 14 August from Hamid Karzai International Airport, such as an initial wave of violence in and near the airfield that resulted in the deaths of many Afghan civilians. But he insisted the airlift was a historic achievement that removed 124,000 people from the Taliban regime.
“To be clear, those first two days were tough,” said Austin, who is a veteran of the war. “We all watched with alarm the images of Afghans fleeing the runway and into our plane. We all remember the scenes of confusion outside the airport. But within 48 hours, our troops restored order, and the process took off. Started getting louder.”
FILE – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) shakes hands with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, during the Pentagon 9/11 observance ceremony at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on September 11, 2021. Arlington, Virginia. (P
The Biden administration faced criticism on several fronts for its handling of the final months of the war.
James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Panel, told Austin and Milley that withdrawal and evacuation amounted to an “avoidable disaster.”
Republicans in particular have intensified their attacks on President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan by August 30, saying it has made the US more vulnerable to terrorism. They are demanding more information about the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 US service members in the final days of their return.
General Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as Chief of Central Command, testified with Austin and Milley.
Inhofe has presented the Pentagon with a long list of questions about several aspects of the withdrawal, including the August 26 suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport that killed some 169 Afghans in addition to US service members. . He is also seeking information on decision-making in the summer as it became clear the Taliban was taking a toll on US-backed Afghan forces.
“We need a full account of every factor and decision that has led us to this day and a realistic plan to keep America from moving forward,” Inhofe wrote last week.
The withdrawal ended the longest war in American history. The Biden administration, and some Democrats in Congress, have argued that former President Donald Trump bears some of the blame for the war that ended in a Taliban victory, as his administration signed a deal with the Taliban in 2020, in which A full American withdrawal was promised by May. 2021. He also pointed to the failure of the US to build an Afghan army that could take on the Taliban.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican problem. These failures have manifested in the four presidential administrations of both political parties,” said Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I, a day after Kabul was captured by the Taliban on August 15.
Although Tuesday’s hearing was set to focus on Afghanistan, other topics were sure to come up, including the actions of Milley during the final months of Trump’s presidency.
Some in Congress have accused Millie of infidelity for the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which was reported as an assurance to a Chinese general that the US had no plans to attack China. , and if he did, met him used to warn him in advance. In the days following news accounts reporting the book, Milley declined to comment in detail, instead telling reporters that he would give his answers directly to Congress. His only comment has been that the calls with the Chinese were routine and within his job duties and responsibilities.
Both Milley and Austin have defended the execution by US forces of the withdrawal of Afghanistan that Biden ordered in April. By early July the pullout was largely complete, but several hundred soldiers were stationed in Kabul, along with some defensive equipment, to protect the American diplomatic presence in the capital. The State Department initially said that diplomats would remain until August 31 after the troop withdrawal was completed, but when Afghan forces collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, leaving the Taliban, a frantic evacuation ensued.
The Pentagon has defended the execution of an airlift carrying more than 120,000 people from Kabul airport, while acknowledging that it got off to a chaotic start and was under almost constant threat of a terrorist attack.
“The avalanche of incompetence of the Biden administration has damaged our international reputation and humiliated the United States on the world stage,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Marionette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, both Republicans, wrote in the Des Moines Register. “Nevertheless, our President and Foreign Minister continue to pretend that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a historic success.”
Cotton and others have questioned the viability of U.S. plans for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate using intelligence-gathering assets and attack planes based outside Afghanistan.