Pentagon seeks to turn page in Afghanistan, defense withdrawal management

Washington, Sep 1 (EFE).- Top Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the United States military will continue fighting against terrorism and confronting the new challenges that face the US after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, while also defending the management of the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul, an operation that has been criticized from many quarters.

One day after President Joe Biden delivered a speech to the nation after the end of the withdrawal from Afghanistan on Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley held a press conference to speak about the country’s new objectives and to provide a balance sheet for the evacuation.

Austin provided details of the new US military priorities now that the country’s longest war has ended.

He said that the US military will continue confronting the security challenges presented by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, adding that it is the military’s duty to defend the country and that includes continuing US anti-terrorism efforts against any threat to the American people.

The defense secretary said that the US will work with its partners to promote stability in the region around Afghanistan.

In addition, US military leaders will adopt a “new focus” to meet the challenges posed by China and to exploit new opportunities in the Indopacific region and elsewhere.

He emphasized that the US wants to strengthen its ties with its allies and seek new partners to defend democracy against “all enemies.”

Austin said that, now that the Afghan conflict is over for the US, this country has entered a “new chapter” vis-a-via the Central Asian nation, where diplomats will now head the efforts to bring out the few Americans who still remain on Afghan soil.

Calculations are that there could be about 100 Americans who still remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal, although the US managed to evacuate about 6,000 in recent weeks.

The Biden administration has been the target of harsh criticism from Republicans and some US veterans for having “left behind” Americans in Afghanistan and for the management of the withdrawal, with its scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport and a suicide bombing that killed 13 US soldiers and some 170 Afghans.

Directing his remarks to the troops and their relatives, Austin admitted that he knows that these have been difficult days for many, referring to the 13 troops killed last Thursday in the Islamic State Khorasan attack.

The defense chief said that he will always be proud of the role the US and its military played in Afghanistan, adding that people should not expect that veterans who served there will automatically agree with that assessment, given that a democracy consists of people who are allowed to have different opinions.

For his part, Milley said that he has the “same emotions” and is sure that Austin also shares those emotions along with anyone who has served in the US military.

He said that his pain and anger come from the “same (source) as the grieving families, same as the soldiers on the ground.”

Saying that he had commanded troops in the field before, and “I have walked the patrols and been blown up and shot at,” Milley said. “This is tough stuff. War is hard, it’s vicious, it’s brutal, it’s unforgiving.”

Milley was the person at the press conference tasked with providing the figures on the withdrawal and the number of US citizens, other foreign nationals and Afghan collaborators evacuated from Kabul.

The general said that the US deployed “between 5,000 and 6,000” soldiers on the ground, most of them to guarantee security at the Kabul airport, given the rapid advance of the Taliban, who took the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

In all, 387 US C-17 and C-130 flights carrying evacuees took off from Kabul, along with 391 flights operated by other nations for a total of 778 flights that brought out 124,334 people, including about 6,000 Americans as well as citizens of other countries and Afghan collaborators and their families.

Milley said that currently there are some 20,000 evacuees being housed in seven intermediate staging centers in five countries established by the US Central Command, which operates in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

In that regard, Austin said that he will travel to the Persian Gulf next week to thank the US allies in the region for their help in bringing out and providing refuge to Afghan civilians.

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