US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (C) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley (L) and Commander-in-Chief of the US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie (R) testify during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate office building September 28, 2021 Hill in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON – The Pentagon acknowledged on Tuesday that the Afghan army’s astonishing collapse in the midst of a rapid Taliban advance contributed to the Biden administration’s chaotic exodus from the war-torn country.
“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, surprised us all,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“It would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” added Austin, a veteran of the Middle East wars.
The U.S. Army Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said that while many of the US and NATO coalition-trained Afghan troops were trying to maintain their positions against the Taliban, the majority did not.
“Many units fought to the very end, but the vast majority laid down their weapons and melted away in a very, very short time,” Milley said. “I think it has to do with will and with leadership, but I think we still have to try to figure out exactly why that was,” he added.
“Obviously, it’s obvious. The war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted. The Taliban, which is now in power in Kabul,” Milley said.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, speaks during a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee on the cessation of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counter-terrorism operations on Capitol Hill on September 28, 2021 in Washington, DC.
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Both Austin and Milley dismissed criticism from lawmakers that the U.S. military’s colossal 17-day humanitarian evacuation from Afghanistan had generally failed.
Austin said the U.S. military managed to move more than 7,000 people daily.
“On military aircraft alone, we flew more than 387 excursions, averaging almost 23 a day. At the height of this operation, an aircraft took off every 45 minutes,” he said, adding that “not a single excursion was missed for maintenance, fuel or logistical problems. “
“Was it perfect? Of course not,” Austin said.
“We moved so many people, so fast out of Kabul, that we ran into capacity and screening problems at staging points outside Afghanistan. And we are still working to get Americans out who want to leave,” he said, adding that the US State Department is also trying to evacuate Afghan allies enrolled in the special immigrant visa program.
Asked about the lasting impact among NATO allies in the wake of a hasty evacuation, Milley told lawmakers that the credibility of the United States was “intensely revised” by both allies and opponents. Austin added that US credibility “remains solid” in reference to his interactions with US allies since the withdrawal.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a hearing in Senate Armed Services on the end of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counter-terrorism operations on Capitol Hill on September 28, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Patrick Semansky | Getty Images
When asked how many U.S. citizens are left in Afghanistan, Austin, Milley and U.S. Central Command Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie referred to the State Department.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers that fewer than 100 U.S. citizens seeking evacuation remain in Afghanistan.
Following President Joe Biden’s instruction, the U.S. military mission to Afghanistan ended on August 31 after the evacuation of approximately 125,000 people out of the country. Of that, a total of about 6,000 were U.S. citizens and their families.
The United States began its war in Afghanistan in October 2001, weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban at the time provided a haven for al-Qaeda, the group that planned and carried out the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Since then, about 2,500 U.S. officials have died in the conflict, which also claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Afghan troops, police and civilians.
After 20 years of investment, four US presidents and 12 defense secretaries, the Taliban are back in power.
In the last weeks of a planned exodus of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban carried out a series of shocking advances on the battlefield. On August 15, the group captured the presidential palace in Kabul, prompting Western governments to speed up the evacuation efforts of vulnerable Afghan citizens, diplomats and civilians.
After the Taliban took power, Biden defended his decision that the United States would leave the war-torn country.
“I am completely behind my decision. After 20 years, I have learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces,” Biden said one day after Afghanistan collapsed with the Taliban.
“American troops can and should not fight in a war and die in a war that Afghan forces themselves are not willing to fight for,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to decide their own future. We could not give them the will to fight for that future.”
Biden ordered the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Kabul to help with the colossal humanitarian air bridge and secure the airport’s perimeter.
In the last week of the evacuation effort, ISIS-K group terrorists killed 13 U.S. officials and dozens of Afghans in an attack outside the airport. U.S. forces retaliated and launched attacks in an attempt to prevent other attacks.