Gen. Mark Milley contended that neither he nor anyone else had seen evidence that the Afghan government would collapse as swiftly as it did, claiming intelligence said a quick Taliban victory was a possibility, but no one saw such a swift takeover coming.
Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that “there was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days” during his first press conference since the fall of Kabul.
“I have previously said from this podium, and in sworn testimony before Congress, that the intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government, another was a civil war, and a third was a negotiated settlement,” Milley said. “However, the time frame of a rapid collapse — that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months to even years following our departure.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said the State Department painted a “rosy picture” about Afghanistan as opposed to the increasingly “grim” intelligence community assessments.
Biden said Monday the collapse of the Afghan government and the takeover happened “more quickly than we had anticipated.” Just over a month ago, Biden said: “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
BIDEN AND MILLEY MISLED ABOUT AFGHAN ARMY NUMBERS
The intelligence community has defended itself, with a senior intelligence official telling the Washington Examiner that “a rapid Taliban takeover was always a possibility” — though the official did not define what “rapid” meant.
Milley added on Wednesday: “I stood behind this podium and said the Afghan security forces had the capacity — and by that, I mean they had training, the size, the capability to defend their country. This comes down to an issue of will and leadership. And no, I did not, and neither did anyone else see a collapse of an army that size in 11 days.”
Biden had repeatedly claimed the Afghan military was 300,000 strong while Milley testified in June that the combined Afghan army and police force totaled 325,000 to 350,000 — both claims that were misleading.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report on July 31 which noted that, as of the end of April, 300,699 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces personnel were enrolled in the Afghan Personnel and Pay System but only 182,071 of them were Afghan National Army members, including Afghan Air Force, while 118,628 were actually part of the Afghan National Police, which reported to Afghanistan's Interior Ministry instead of its Defense Ministry.
Moreover, the watchdog emphasized, “ANDSF personnel strength reported for this quarter does not reflect the loss of personnel to casualties, surrender, capture, or fleeing to other countries that occurred during the Taliban offensive from May through July.”
The U.S. Embassy had to be abandoned over the weekend, and Hamid Karzai International Airport erupted into chaos as crowds of Afghans attempted to flee when the Taliban marched into Kabul on Sunday.
“We are the United States military, and we fully intend to evacuate all Americans who want to get out of Afghanistan. … They are our priority No. 1,” Milley said. “In addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years, and we’re not going to leave them behind — and we will get out as many as possible.”
As many as 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens are believed to still be in Afghanistan, though officials have provided conflicting figures. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned Wednesday that it could not guarantee the safety of Americans attempting to make their way to the airport. American officials said that 3,200 U.S. residents have been evacuated as of Tuesday evening, and they also said the United States has relocated roughly 2,000 Afghan immigrants so far. Outside aid groups have estimated that up to 80,000 Afghans and their families have applied for special immigrant visas, and the Defense Department said Monday that it had plans to settle 22,000 Afghan refugees seeking asylum.
Milley also defended the U.S. military’s controversial decision to abandon Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night in early July.
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“Securing Bagram is a significant level of military effort and forces, and it would also require external support from the Afghan security forces. Our task, given to us at that time, our task was to protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consulate services and all that. If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would’ve exceeded what we had — or stayed the same or exceeded what we had. So, had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made, the proposal was made from the CENTCOM commander on the ground, Scotty Miller, to go ahead and collapse Bagram … and we risked that the risk of going out of HKIA or the risk of going out of Bagram were about the same, so going out of HKIA was estimated to be the better tactical solution in accordance with the mission set we were given and in accordance with getting the troops down to a 600, 700 number.”
Milley said it was likely that the operation in Kabul would end up being the second-largest noncombatant evacuation operation ever conducted by America — the largest such operation occurred when the U.S. evacuated tens of thousands of people at the end of the Vietnam War with the collapse of South Vietnam and the fall of Saigon.