The top US general conceded in a stark admission on September 29 that the US “lost” the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“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,” US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley 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.”
“There’s a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back,” said the general, the top military adviser 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.”
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 US Central Command, told a Senate committee on September 28 that they had personally recommended that some 2,500 troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had received “split” advice about what to do in Afghanistan, which the US 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.”