A number of top military officials emerged from a Senate committee hearing this week after having made some shocking acknowledgments about the chaotic evacuation of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
For his part, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley pointed to a “strategic failure” in the conclusion to the 20-year U.S. occupation of the war-torn country.
His remarks, along with those from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, came during a lengthy hearing featuring questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The trio largely sidestepped any direct acknowledgment of mistakes by themselves or President Joe Biden in recent weeks.
While the generals paid lip service to the fact that there had been errors in strategy over the course of the past two decades, they appeared to be in no hurry to accept responsibility for the costs associated with its recent conclusion.
They noted that they foresaw a Taliban takeover upon the exit of U.S. service members and signaled support for keeping roughly 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
That confession contradicted Biden’s claim that his plan for a complete withdrawal had their backing. Nevertheless, they expressed surprise over how quickly the Afghan government and military crumbled.
“Those are two different terms”
Milley defended the evacuation as a whole while noting the unintended outcome of the mission.
“I think one of the other senators said it very well,” he said. “It was a logistical success but a strategic failure, and I think those are two different terms.”
Republicans on the Senate panel hammered the Biden administration for apparently ignoring the advice of the top generals. Democrats generally applauded the president for ending the war, questioning whether it would have made a difference to keep troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
“That outcome is the cumulative effect of 20 years, not 20 days, and there are a huge amount of strategic operations and tactical lessons that need to be heard from that,” Milley concluded.
By all accounts, Milley and the other military leaders got off easy during their testimony. Plenty of GOP critics, however, are still calling for them, as well as Biden, to face repercussions — including removal from office.