WASHINGTON: In a frank admission during a hearing, the top US military official admitted that America “lost” the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the “corrupt” Ashraf Ghani regime had lost people’s trust and collapsed sooner than expected.
“It is clear, it is obvious to all of us, that the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted, with the Taliban in power in Kabul,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee.
“The war was a strategic failure,” Milley told a committee hearing about the US troop pullout from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation from the capital Kabul.
“It wasn’t lost in the last 20 days or even 20 months,” Milley said.
“There’s a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back,” said the general, the top military advisor to President Joe Biden, who ordered an end to the 20-year US troop presence in Afghanistan.
“Whenever you get some phenomenon like a war that is lost — and it has been, in the sense of we accomplished our strategic task of protecting America against Al-Qaeda, but certainly the end state is a whole lot different than what we wanted,” Milley said.
“So whenever a phenomenon like that happens, there’s an awful lot of causal factors,” he said. “And we’re going to have to figure that out. A lot of lessons learned here.”
The top military official also admitted that the Ashraf Ghani government was involved in corruption and the people had no trust in it.
Milley listed a number of factors responsible for the US defeat going back to a missed opportunity to capture or kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora soon after the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.
He also cited the 2003 decision to invade Iraq, which shifted US troops away from Afghanistan, “not effectively dealing with Pakistan as a (Taliban) sanctuary,” and pulling advisers out of Afghanistan a few years ago.
Biden, in April, ordered a complete pullout of US forces from Afghanistan by August 31, following through on an agreement reached with the Taliban by former president Donald Trump.
Milley and General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that they had personally recommended that some 2,500 troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan.
McKenzie told the committee that he had warned that a complete withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military and the Afghan government.
“That is in fact what happened,” McKenzie said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had received “split” advice about what to do in Afghanistan, which the United States invaded following the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the commander-in-chief to make a decision,” Psaki said. “He made a decision that it was time to end a 20-year war.”