Biden warned on Kabul pullout
WASHINGTON: Senior US generals have revealed they advised President Joe Biden to keep American troops in Afghanistan and expressed concern that the Taliban has not severed ties with 9/11 terrorist group al-Qaeda.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said they had personally recommended that some 2500 troops remain on the ground in Afghanistan.
Mr Biden ordered a complete pullout of US forces from the country by August 31, following an agreement reached with the Taliban by former president Donald Trump.
General Milley, General McKenzie and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin were grilled for nearly six hours by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation from Kabul airport.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden had received “split” advice about what to do in Afghanistan, which the US invaded following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the commander-in-chief to make a decision,” Ms Psaki said. “He made a decision that it was time to end a 20-year war.”
General Milley, who has shrugged off calls from some Republicans for him to resign, was asked if the pullout and disorderly evacuation – during which 13 US troops were killed in bomb attack – had damaged America’s credibility.
“I think that our credibility with allies and partners around the world and with adversaries is being intensely reviewed by them to see which way this is going to go, and I think ‘damage’ is one word that could be used, yes,” he said.
He said the Taliban “was and remains a terrorist organisation and they still have not broken ties with al-Qaeda”, which plotted the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan.
“It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power or if the country will fracture into further civil war,” he said. “But we must continue to protect the American people from terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan.”
A reconstituted al-Qaeda or Islamic State with aspirations to attack America remains “a very real possibility”, he said.
Mr Austin said the US failed to comprehend the “depth of corruption and poor leadership” in the Afghan military.
“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” he said. “The fact the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away … took us all by surprise,” the Pentagon chief said.
General Milley also testified about calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the chaotic final months of the Trump presidency. He said they were intended to “de-escalate” tensions and the former president had no aim of attacking China.
“I know, I am certain, that (former) president Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese,” General Milley said.