Austin: Collapse of Afghan military took US by surprise

Washington, Sep 28 (EFE).- US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee admitted that the rapid collapse of the Afghan military “took us all by surprise,” with the Joe Biden administration being unable to gauge the deep corruption and mediocre leadership in Afghanistan.

Austin appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee along with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth McKenzie.

Austin said that the US must face an uncomfortable truth, which is that top officials did not understand the depth of the corruption and the poor leadership within the Afghan government and also failed to understand the harmful effect of frequent and inexplicable rotations in military commanders made by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The defense chief said that the US was not able to anticipate the repercussions of the pacts between the Taliban and local Afghan leaders, in light of the Doha peace accord signed in February 2020 between the Donald Trump administration and the insurgents.

In that regard, he acknowledged that the Doha agreement had a “demoralizing” effect on the Afghan troops.

Austin noted that over the years the US had supplied the Afghan armed forces with military equipment, aircraft and assorted capabilities, but in the end it was unable to provide those forces with the “will to win.”

In addition, the defense secretary said that the evacuation of US citizens and their Afghan allies from Afghanistan did not begin earlier due to a decision by the US State Department and because of concerns that moving too quickly could cause the collapse of the Afghan government.

However, given that the US and its allies evacuated some 124,000 people from Kabul, Austin said that “It was the largest airlift conducted in US history and it was executed in 17 days. Was it perfect? Of course not. We moved so many people so quickly out of Kabul that we ran into capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Milley said during his own testimony that it is “clear” that the war in Afghanistan did not end in the way that the US would have wanted and emphasized that “the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organisation and still has not broken ties with Al-Qaeda.”

He added that it remains to be seen whether the Taliban will be capable of consolidating themselves in power or if Afghanistan will end up sliding into civil war.

The general said that the US military must continue to protect the US against terrorist attacks from Afghanistan, adding that “a reconstituted Al-Qaeda or (Islamic State group) with aspirations to attack the US is a very real possibility.”

The US found itself forced to accelerate the evacuations in mid-August and to move up the timetable for completely withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan to Aug. 31 due to the rapid advance of the Taliban, who took control of the country, and the collapse of the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country.

During the evacuation, although some 5,000 US troops surged into Kabul stabilized the situation in the capital, there were a couple of weeks of chaos at the Kabul airport as thousands of desperate Afghans did everything they could to catch one of the evacuation flights, culminating in a suicide bomb attack – claimed by the Islamic State’s Afghanistan arm – that killed 13 US soldiers and some 170 Afghan civilians.


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