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Trump, Biden were warned Afghanistan would get ‘very bad, very fast,’ ex-top general says

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan during America’s 2021 withdrawal said he repeatedly warned the Trump and Biden administrations that pulling out all troops would make the security situation in the country “very bad, very fast,” but officials failed to grasp the danger.

Retired Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the former U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander, said he advised both administrations that cutting troop presence to zero would have left the U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces vulnerable to being overrun by the Taliban, according to his April 15 interview with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released Monday.

“My view was that going to zero things would go very bad, very fast,” Miller said in the closed-door testimony. “And of course, [I] define that [as] not prepared for a political or a security collapse while we’re still present, just wouldn’t be prepared.”

Instead, Miller recommended that the U.S. keep at least 2,500 forces on the ground in bases in Kabul and at Bagram Airfield — once the largest U.S. military base in the country that was abandoned by the U.S. military in July 2021, a month before the fall of Kabul and the full U.S. evacuation.   

“My recommendation was that we retain a footprint,” Miller said. “You leave something here that keeps the Afghan Security Forces in the fight, keeps the Afghan Air Force in the fight, and you move forward. So that was my recommendation and it stayed consistent.”

Still, both President Trump and President Biden took steps to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, with Trump initiating the withdrawal through a February 2020 deal with the Taliban known as the Doha Agreement, and Biden ultimately completing the effort in August 2021, to disastrous results.

In the chaos of the exit, during which tens of thousands of Afghan civilians desperately tried to leave the country via the Hamid Karzai International Airport, an ISIS-K suicide bomber blew himself up outside airport’s Abbey Gate, killing 13 U.S. service members and nearly 200 Afghans.

Miller said that after the Doha Agreement, the Taliban launched a handful of indirect fire attacks, which he saw as a warning of what was to come.

But in April 2021, after Biden announced his decision to fully withdraw U.S. troops and diplomats from Afghanistan, Miller said he predicted a full Taliban takeover of the country.

Though he later attempted to advocate for the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, State Department officials seemed to have “a lack of understanding of the risk.”

Millersaid that he became so worried by the administration’s failure to grasp how dangerous the withdrawal would be, he warned the Marine Corps commander in charge of planning for a possible evacuation to prepare for “some really adverse conditions.”

After Kabul swiftly fell to the Taliban in August 2021, the State Department finally requested a non-combatant evacuation operation for their employees but “it was too late,” a situation that put U.S. troops in a strained position, Miller said.

“If the building’s already on fire before you start evacuating it, it’s a much more challenging evacuation,” he told lawmakers.

“At that point, my focus was, how do I get these guys out of here without hurting somebody?” he continued. “I don’t usually get scared. I don’t. I was scared. And you know what I was afraid of? I was afraid I was going to lose somebody.”

Miller also lamented that he “did not foresee a good future for Afghanistan as I was departing,” and that he tried to make sure officials had a good understanding of what was happening in Afghanistan.

The interview is likely to recharge critics of Biden’s foreign policy decisions ahead of the November presidential election, with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) leading the charge on an investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal.

The administration and its supporters, meanwhile, have criticized McCaul’s investigation as ignoring key decisions made by Trump while he was in the White House – including the Doha Agreement, a deal that imposed a May 2021 deadline for a full U.S. military pullout that left Biden with little control and no plan for how to achieve it.

Source: The Hill

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