Afghanistan’s uncomfortable truths
September 29, 2021 - American military leaders, appearing before Congress, acknowledge strategic failures and uncomfortable truths in the 20-year U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie appeared before the Senate armed services committee.
McKenzie told Senators that the war in Afghanistan is “not over,” contradicting President Joe Biden, who said on August 31, “My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over.”
Both McKenzie and Milley recommended leaving a small American fighting force of about 2,500 troops in the country to help stabilize the Afghan government.
Austin said that the most significant problems in Afghanistan were the depths of corruption in the government and the negative impact of former President Donald Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban. Those negotiations did not include the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
“We need to consider some uncomfortable truths,” Austin said in his opening statement. “We did not grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders.”
“We didn’t anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that Taliban commanders struck with local leaders,” Austin added.
“Finally… we failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which -- and for whom -- any of the Afghan forces would fight.”
Milley acknowledged that the withdrawal was a “strategic defeat” that left the Taliban back in power. He warned the Taliban “remains a terrorist organization” that has not broken ties with Al Qaeda.
He said that a reconstituted Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with aspirations to attack the United States was “a very real possibility” -- perhaps in as little as a year.
- The Lie of Nation Building (Fintan O’Toole, New York Review)
- Afghanistan Opium Survey 2020 (UNDOC)
- U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies (New York Times)
- 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (Congressional Research Service)
- Bush on Nation Building and Afghanistan (Foreign Policy)