- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said the Afghan army’s collapse surprised the Pentagon.
- He was speaking with senators at a congressional hearing about the Afghan war.
- Gen. Mark Milley said the US still needed to find out why Afghan troops surrendered so easily.
Top American defense officials said on Tuesday that the Pentagon was caught off guard by the collapse of US-trained Afghan forces in the face of the Taliban’s swift takeover in August.
“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise,” said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee about the 20-year-long Afghanistan War.
“And it would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” added Austin, who is a former four-star general.
—The Recount (@therecount) September 28, 2021
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at the hearing that the US still needs to pinpoint what led so many Afghan troops to surrender or withdraw so quickly.
“Many units did fight at the very end, but the vast majority put their weapons down and melted away in a very, very short period of time,” he said. “I think that has to do with will and with leadership, but I think we still need to try to figure out exactly why that was.”
Austin and Milley defended the US withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan, in which the US helped airlift thousands of people a day amid chaos at the Kabul airport.
Austin said that the evacuation effort was unprecedented, and US airmen, soldiers, marines, and their commanders “exceeded all expectations.”
“On military aircraft alone — we flew more than 387 sorties, averaging nearly 23 per day. At the height of this operation, an aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes,” he said.
“Was it perfect? Of course not,” added Austin.
At the same hearing, Gen. Milley and US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, tested that they recommended the US maintaining 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan.
McKenzie said he believed “that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government.”
President Joe Biden ultimately overruled the generals and ordered that all troops be pulled out of Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported. In an August interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden said that “no one” advised him to keep 2,500 troops in the country.
In response to the generals’ testimony, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a Tuesday press conference that Biden had been presented with “a range of viewpoints.”
She added that it was clear to the president and his team that maintaining troops in Afghanistan would eventually mean future war with the Taliban, an escalation of American military presence there, and further casualties.
“The president was just not willing to make that decision, he didn’t think it was in the interest of the American people or the interest of our troops.”
—ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 28, 2021