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Assessment of 2021 Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by Former U.S. Military Leaders

Former U.S. military leaders assess 2021 troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, two prominent former U.S. military officials who were at the helm during the 2021 American withdrawal from Afghanistan provided crucial testimony regarding the events leading up to and following the United States departure from the region.

Retired General Mark Milley, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered an opening statement asserting that the withdrawal from Afghanistan amounted to “a strategic failure.” He emphasized that the decision to delay troop removal from the area was untimely, indicating that it came far too late.

“After two decades, our military efforts aided in constructing an army and a government structure, but we fell short in fostering a cohesive nation,” Milley conveyed to members of Congress during his appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, alongside Retired General Kenneth McKenzie, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command.

Assessment of 2021 Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by Former U.S. Military Leaders

Assessment of 2021 Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by Former U.S. Military Leaders (Credits: UPI)

Milley elaborated on the chaotic events of August 2021, particularly the scramble to evacuate approximately 124,000 U.S. personnel from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. “It was evident to me at the time that the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s assumption of control were inevitable,” he remarked during his testimony.

McKenzie echoed Milley’s sentiments, attributing the delayed withdrawal to policy decisions. He concurred that the decision to exit Afghanistan was overdue, highlighting the consequences of postponing the initiation of noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) for several months.

“In reality, until the extremist threat escalated and the Taliban seized control of the country— as you are aware— the decision to commence a NEO fell under the purview of the Department of State, not the Department of Defense,” McKenzie explained, underscoring a discrepancy in approach between the two departments regarding the withdrawal strategy.

He further noted, “Nevertheless, we had commenced the deployment of forces in the region as early as July 9, but were unable to take action.”

Assessment of 2021 Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by Former U.S. Military Leaders

Assessment of 2021 Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan by Former U.S. Military Leaders (Credits: CNN)

In April of the preceding year, the White House released a comprehensive 12-page joint report by the Pentagon and State Department on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. While critical of the preceding Trump administration’s handling of the matter, the report affirmed President Joe Biden’s decision to conclude America’s protracted military involvement in the region.

In September, Milley expressed his remorse to ABC News regarding the tumultuous events surrounding the 2021 withdrawal, which resulted in the loss of 13 American lives—several of whose families were present at Tuesday’s hearing— and 170 Afghan civilians.

“It did not conclude as I had hoped,” Milley lamented at the time. “It did not conclude as any of us had hoped.”

However, during his testimony on Tuesday, Milley emphasized, “In essence, the U.S. military executed one of the most remarkable evacuations under duress in recorded history amidst an exceedingly challenging, fluid, and hazardous environment.”

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