Before the final US pullout in August, two top US generals have indicated they favor retaining a force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Generals Mark Milley and Frank McKenzie testified before Congress, contradicting President Joe Biden’s claim that he did not recall any such advice.
After swiftly sweeping across the country, the Taliban seized power in August.
The rapidity with which the Afghan government fell apart caught the US off guard, according to Gen Milley.
The two US generals, as well as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, were grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
The hearing comes weeks after a tumultuous departure from Kabul Airport, which saw foreign governments scramble to bring their nationals home as thousands of Afghans screamed for help.
During the pullout operation, 182 persons were murdered by a suicide bomber. On August 26, the airport gate killed thirteen US service members and at least 169 Afghans.
General’s Wanted To Keep Boots On The Ground
Under questioning from Republican senators, Gen. McKenzie, who supervised the departure of US forces from Afghanistan as commander of US Central Command, said he proposed retaining a small presence of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
This appears to contradict President Joe Biden’s claim to an ABC reporter on August 19 that he had never received such guidance.
When questioned by Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan whether Mr Biden’s statements were “a false statement,” Gen Milley said he agreed with the suggestion but declined to provide a clear answer.
Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the White House, later addressed the matter.
“The president welcomes the joint chiefs’ and military’s frank counsel,” she added. “That doesn’t imply he agrees with everything.”
She said that if US soldiers continued in Afghanistan after the August deadline, the Taliban would be at war with the US.
Reports Show U.S Was Caught Off Guard
Mr. Austin gave the opening statement, followed by Gen. Milley, who stated that it would now be more difficult to defend Americans from terrorist threats coming from Afghanistan.
“The Taliban was and continues to be a terrorist organization with connections to al-Qaeda,” he added.
“A rebuilt al-Qaeda or ISIS [Islamic State organization] with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility, and those conditions, which may include activities in ungoverned places, could show themselves in the next 12-36 months,” says the report.
In late 2020, Gen. Milley predicted that a faster force withdrawal from Afghanistan would lead to the government’s collapse.
However, he and Mr Austin both said that the rapidity with which the US military collapsed caught them off surprise.
“We contributed to the creation of a state, but we were unable to create a country,” Mr Austin added.
“The Afghan army that we and our allies trained just vanished – in many cases without firing a shot – caught us all off guard.”
Late in 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, US forces entered Afghanistan for the first time. The US had spent around $985 billion (£724 billion) and deployed tens of thousands of troops by the time they withdrew, with a peak of 110,000 in 2011.
The US withdrew its last 4,000 troops in the weeks between the fall of Kabul and the 31 August pullout deadline. It is also transporting about 50,000 Afghan refugees who were evacuated from Kabul.
In the days following the Taliban takeover, up to 20 individuals were killed in the masses who assembled at the airport.