Wednesday, December 1

5 conclusions from the testimony of senior military leaders on Afghanistan

(CNN) — Senior military officials warned Tuesday that the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror are not over, even though the US military no longer maintains forces on the ground after 20 years of constant military presence in the country.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and Chief of the US Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie faced questioning by lawmakers from the Senate Armed Services Commission. who wanted to know how the US military presence ended with footage of Afghans clinging to US military planes, how a drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians, and how US and Afghan citizens who aided the United States during the longest war in The United States lagged behind in the evacuation effort.

Here are five takeaways from the Senate hearing:

The war in Afghanistan and the war on terror are not over

Both Milley and McKenzie, the top US military commander in the Middle East, acknowledged that while there are no US soldiers left on the ground in Afghanistan, neither the war on terrorism nor the war in Afghanistan is over.

When Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, asked if any of the military efforts had ended, both generals said no.

“The war on terror is not over and neither is the war in Afghanistan,” McKenzie said.

Tillis also asked the generals whether the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has made it easier or harder to protect the United States from potential threats. Both Milley and McKenzie said the pullout has made protecting America “more challenging.”

Military leaders advocated keeping troops in Afghanistan

Both Milley and McKenzie said they supported keeping 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan. Milley said he had that view in the fall of 2020 and that his position “remained constant throughout,” that the United States should maintain “a steady state of 2,500 and could bounce back to 3,500 … to move towards a negotiated solution. “

While both McKenzie and Milley did not comment on the conversations they had with President Joe Biden after he took office in January 2021, they claimed that keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan was their position.

Austin told the commission that “the information was received” and “considered by the president” before Biden made his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan in April.

When asked by Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas why he did not resign after Biden decided to withdraw troops from the country, Milley said that his job is to provide “advice” to the president, but that “the president does not have to agree. agree with that advice. “

“This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we’re going to accept and do or not,” Milley said. “That is not our job. The principle of civil control of the armed forces is absolute, it is fundamental for this republic.”

Now it will be harder to keep Al Qaeda and ISIS in check

McKenzie believes it will be more difficult for the US Central Command to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining traction in the region now that the US is no longer in Afghanistan.

“I have … the ability to investigate Afghanistan” from US Central Command headquarters, but it is “limited,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie also said he was not confident in the ability of the United States to prevent ISIS and al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist activities in the future.

“I think, you know, we’re still looking at how Al Qaeda and ISIS are setting up against the Taliban, we’re still looking at what the Taliban are going to do,” McKenzie said. “I wouldn’t say I’m sure that’s going to be on the ground yet, we could get to that point, but I don’t have that level of confidence yet.”

Doha agreement ‘lowered morale’ of Afghan forces

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Milley, Austin and McKenzie said the Doha deal, negotiated during the Trump administration, lowered the morale of the Afghan national defense and security forces.

McKenzie called the deal “the main accelerator in lowering the morale and overall efficiency of the Afghan army.”

Austin said the agreement had a “significant impact on troop morale.”

Austin said he believed the rapid collapse of the Afghan forces was due to a number of factors, including a lack of morale after the Doha agreement, along with weak leadership within the forces and corruption in the Afghan government.

Milley: America’s credibility has been damaged

Milley said he believes that the credibility of the United States has been damaged after the withdrawal of the United States, which caused the withdrawal of all NATO-allied troops stationed in Afghanistan along with the Americans.

“I think our credibility with allies and partners around the world, and with adversaries, is being intensively reviewed by them to see what path this will take. And I think ‘harm’ is a word that could be used, yes,” he said. Milley told Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi.

The top three military leaders will appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to face questions from House Democrats and Republicans about the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

CNN’s Michael Conte, Jennifer Hansler, and Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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