Top American generals on Tuesday told lawmakers that they had recommended having 2,500 troops in Afghanistan to which President Joe Biden disagreed.
The White House, however, defended the presidential decision, acknowledging that it was a split recommendation from Biden's advisors and generals.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of US Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and Gen Frank McKenzie, Commander of US Central Command told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had recommended Biden about the need to keep 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan post withdrawal.
“I won't share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. And I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time. Those are my personal views,” McKenzie told the senators.
Milley told the lawmakers that he also agreed with the recommendations that the US maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
“Their input was received by the president and considered by the president, for sure….In terms of what they specifically recommended, as they just said, they are not going to provide what they recommended in confidence,” Austin told the lawmakers as the furious senators grilled the top Pentagon leadership on the nature of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
“I always keep my advice to the president confidential, but I am very much satisfied that we had a thorough policy review and I believe that all of the parties had an opportunity to provide input and that input was received,” he said.
The White House defended the presidential decision in this regard.
“There was a range of viewpoints, as was evidenced by their testimony today, that were presented to the president and his national security team as would be expected. The president asked for a clear-eyed – did not ask them not to sugarcoat it, what their recommendations were,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference.
“It was also clear that would not be a long-standing recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation, an increase in troop numbers. It would also mean war with the Taliban. And it would also mean the potential loss of casualties. The president was just not willing to make that decision,” she said.
“He did not think it was in the interest of the American people or the interest of our troops,” the press secretary asserted.
Responding to another question, Psaki said there were recommendations made by a range of Biden's advisers, something he welcomed, something he asked them to come to him clear-eyed about, to give him candid advice.
“Ultimately, it is up to the commander in chief to make a decision. He made a decision that it was time to end a 20-year war,” Psaki said.
The official further explained that it is a risk assessment for every president about what is in the interest of the United States of America, its military and national interests.
“And if we had kept 2,500 troops there, we would have increased the number of troops, we would have been at war with the Taliban, and we would have had more US casualties,” she said.
“That was a reality everybody was clear-eyed about. There are some, as is evidenced by people testifying today, who felt we should have still done that. That is not the decision the president made,” Psaki added.
Meanwhile, Milley said the Taliban which now rules Afghanistan has failed to honour the 2020 Doha Agreement and most importantly the outfit has not renounced the Al Qaeda.
“Under the Doha Agreement, the United States would begin to withdraw its forces contingent upon the Taliban meeting certain conditions, which would lead to a political agreement between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan,” General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
There were seven conditions applicable to the Taliban and eight conditions applicable to the United States under the agreement, he said.
“While the Taliban did not attack US forces, which was one of the conditions, it failed to fully honour any other condition under the Doha Agreement. And, perhaps most importantly for US national security, the Taliban has never renounced Al-Qaeda or broke its affiliation with them,” he said.
The United States, on the other hand, adhered to every condition, the official noted.
Milley said it is clear the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms the United States wanted, with the Taliban now in power in Kabul.
“And we must remember that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organisation, and they still have not broken ties with Al-Qaeda. I have no illusions who we are dealing with. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power or if the country will further fracture into civil war,” he asserted.
“But we must continue to protect the United States of America and its people from terrorist attacks coming from Afghanistan. A reconstituted Al-Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the US is a very real possibility. And those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months,” he said.
General Milley said such a “mission will be much harder now but not impossible”.
Responding to a question, he said he believes Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan and that they have aspirations to reconstitute.
“And if they develop the capability, I believe they have aspirations to strike. It is too early in the process to determine the capability, but I do believe …. Al-Qaeda is still at war with the United States… ,” he said.
On withdrawal from Afghanistan, the senior official said it makes it much more difficult for the US to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and find-fix functions.
“Then we can strike almost from anywhere in the world, but the find-fix function is more difficult. We can still do it, it is not impossible, but it will make it more difficult,” Milley added.
Republican senators introduce legislation to impose sanctions on Taliban & countries supporting it
A group of 22 Republican senators on Tuesday introduced a legislation to impose sanctions on the Taliban in Afghanistan and all the foreign governments that support the organisation.
The 'Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act' was introduced by Senator Jim Risch.
The legislation seeks a report from the Secretary of State about his assessment of the role of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban from 2001-2020; in the offensive that led to the toppling of the Government of Afghanistan and the looking into the Pakistan support for Taliban offensive against Panjshir Valley and Afghan resistance.
“We continue to see the grave implications of the Biden administration's haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Risch said after introducing the bill on the senate floor.
“An unknown number of American citizens and Afghan partners remain abandoned in Afghanistan under threat from the Taliban. We face a renewed terror threat against the United States, and the Taliban wrongly seek recognition at the United Nations, even as they suppress the rights of Afghan women and girls,” he noted.
The legislation also requires strategies for counterterrorism and for the disposition of Taliban-captured US equipment and sanctions the Taliban and others in Afghanistan for terrorism, drug-trafficking, and human rights abuses. It authorises sanctions on those providing support to the Taliban, including foreign governments.
It states that the United States should not recognise any member of the Taliban as the ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States or as the ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Nations. The legislation calls for a comprehensive review of foreign assistance to entities that support the Taliban.
The legislation further urges a report from the President on detailed description of the security and economic challenges that the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, and the Taliban pose to the countries of South and Central Asia, including border disputes with South and Central Asian countries that border China, investments China in land and sea ports, military activities and installations, transportation infrastructure, and energy projects across the region.
It also seeks a presidential report in identification of areas where the US can strengthen diplomatic, economic and defense cooperation with India to address economic and security challenges posed by China, Russia and the Taliban in the region, and an assessment of how the changes to India's security environment resulting from the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan will affect US' engagement with India.