Biden’s Afghanistan hasty exit had several flaws, and the president was right in the big scheme of things. During Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, there was a point when it became evident why President Joe Biden chose to expedite troops withdrawal.
It did occur when Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated why he and the other chiefs—the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines’ top officers—all felt that we needed to withdraw by Aug 31.
The Doha accord, which President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in early 2020-without the Afghan government’s input, mandated the complete withdrawal of foreign soldiers. Milley stated that if US troops had remained beyond August, the Taliban would have renewed warfare, and to fend off the attacks, “we would have needed 30,000 troops” and lost “several casualties.”
Senior military officers’ perspective on Biden’s Afghanistan hasty exit and the president’s reluctance to be “boxed.”
But still, as Milley testified on Tuesday, he, the chiefs, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and other military officers inclined Biden to extend the deployment of 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan beyond the Aug 31 timeline.
The point was that these troops would not be assigned to any particular “military task.” They would, instead, “transition” to a “diplomatic mission.”
The Taliban, on the other hand, was exceedingly unlikely to have acknowledged the semantic differential. 2,500 US troops would be regarded as 2,500 US troops in their eyes regardless of whether their mission was officially designated as “military” or “diplomatic.” As a result, the Taliban would renew fighting, as Milley indicated, and Biden would suffer an agonizing choice—withdraw while under attack or send in another 30,000 troops.
It’s essential considering some historical and psychological context. During the first nine months of Barack Obama‘s presidency, the generals called for a massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan—a 40,000-troop increase—and a move to a counterinsurgency, a.k.a. “nation-building” strategy.
Biden, a vice president at the time, was alone in proposing an increase of only 10,000 troops to be used exclusively to train the Afghan army and combat terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
As Obama recounts in his book, Biden cautioned the newly elected and relatively inexperienced president against being “boxed in” by the generals. Give them 40,000 troops now, and they’ll demand another 40,000 in 18 months to win the war. Biden was right, as Obama eventually acknowledged.
Thus, as Milley advised Biden to retain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan while admitting that an additional 30,000 troops may be required if the Taliban renewed fighting, it’s easy to envision Biden thinking, “They’re trying to box me in, just like they did previously, as they’ve always done ever since Vietnam War,” which was still looming large when Biden joined the Senate in 1973 and the war shaped his views on matters war and peace.
Misses and Hits in Biden’s Hasty Afghanistan Exit
Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the chief of Central Command, both admitted at the hearing that the US military operated in the dark for much of the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan, the longest in American history.
The officers of the day sought to mold the Afghan army in their image, enhancing their reliance on US technology and assistance to the point that collapse was inevitable once we withdrew. Milley also remarked that he and the other officers paid little attention to Afghan culture and the damaging impact of the corrupt Afghan government and its lack of public legitimacy.
Thus, Biden may have concluded, why should he listen to anything these folks have to say about the war in Afghanistan, about which they have been wrong from the start?
Biden made several flaws in the timing and sequence of the withdrawal, some of which were catastrophic. Most importantly, he should have evacuated all spies, contractors, American citizens, and Afghan assisters before the withdrawal of all troops.
However, in the grand scheme of things, the president was justified, and the generals were wrong, as they now concede.