Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday said U.S. military intelligence did not indicate that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban as quickly as it did.
Speaking during a press briefing after the militant group captured the Afghan capital of Kabul, Milley denied reports that the Biden administration ignored warnings that the security situation would deteriorate quickly as the United States wound down its troops’ presence.
“There was nothing that I or anybody else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 Days,” Milley said.
President Joe Biden on Monday said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan with a deadline of Aug. 31 but said “this did unfold more quickly than we anticipated.”
Milley said the United States conducted a “deliberate and responsible drawdown” of troops with a focus on securing the U.S. Embassy and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, adding that while the collapse was considered a possibility, U.S. intelligence did not indicate it would escalate as quickly as it did.
“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,” he said. “However, the timeframe of a rapid collapse, that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks, months and even years following our departure.”
Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also emphasized that the key mission currently was to evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans from Kabul.
“This is a war that I fought in — and I know the country. I know the people, and I know those who fought alongside me,” Austin said. “As I said, we have a moral obligation to help those who helped us.”
Milley added that 5,000 people have already been evacuated and that the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul –where Afghan citizens were seen clinging to the wings of U.S. military planes in desperate attempts to flee the city — was now “under control.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a separate briefing that the U.S. military had increased the number of troops stationed at the airport to 4,500.
“In the past 24 hours, 18 C-17 [Globemaster III] aircraft and one C-130 [Hercules] arrived with around 700 additional troops and some equipment,” Kirby said.
Austin said that there had been “no hostile interactions” with the Taliban at the airport and that lines of communication with Taliban commanders remained open “as they should be.”
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