Pentagon leaders testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday on the Afghanistan withdrawal, and two top generals said they thought the US should not have left the country.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he believed the US should have kept 2,500 troops in Afghanistan to prevent a collapse of the US-backed government, although he did not say what advice he gave directly to President Biden.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, agreed with Milley and said back in the Fall of 2020, he recommended to the Trump administration that the US should have left 4,500 troops in Afghanistan.
When President Biden came into office in January, there were only 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan. The US was only able to keep this small number of forces in the country because the Taliban was not attacking foreign troops under the Doha agreement that was signed in February 2020.
Biden has repeatedly justified his decision to withdraw by pointing out that if the US stayed, the Taliban would start attacking again, and the US would need to deploy thousands of more troops to fight them.
When asked about what Milley and McKenzie said, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said if 2,500 troops stayed past the August 31st withdrawal deadline, “We would be at war with the Taliban.” The president did take a risk by pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline, but the Taliban accepted the new date and still refrained from attacking.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also testified on Tuesday and said how quickly the US-backed government collapsed came as a surprise. “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. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” he said.
Both Milley and McKenzie hyped the threat of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS-K in Afghanistan. Milley said the Taliban is still a “terrorist” organization and conflated them with al-Qaeda, ignoring the history of the war in Afghanistan.
In 2001, the Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to the Bush administration multiple times. Before the September 11th attacks, the Taliban even offered the US to put bin Laden on trial. Now that the Taliban have control of virtually all of Afghanistan, the group has even more of an interest in keeping al-Qaeda and ISIS at bay to prevent more US intervention in the country.