A report claims top military brass had advocated for keeping a small US presence on the ground ahead of President Joe Biden’s announced decision to withdraw its 2,500 troops from Afghanistan starting on 1 May, aiming to be fully out by 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks according to Politico.
Military chiefs had ostensibly argued that a limited number of special operations forces and paramilitary advisers, numbering a few thousand troops, was needed to keep the Taliban at bay and prevent Afghanistan from spiraling into a haven for terrorists, writes the outlet.
Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as four-star commanders of US Forces-Afghanistan, Central Command and Special Operations Command, had vehemently advocated the strategy, claim nine former and current American officials cited by the outlet.
However, Biden and his top national security deputies ostensibly overrode the advice of the top military brass.
“President Biden has made a judgement that those are manageable concerns and not as important as drawing American participation to an end, and so everybody shut up and did it,” Kori Schake, the director of foreign and defence policy at the American Enterprise Institute, was cited as saying.
During a visit to NATO headquarters on Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin responded to questions whether the military supported the decision to withdraw, saying the decision-making had been “inclusive”.
“Their voices were heard and their concerns taken into consideration as the president made his decision. But now the decision has been made, I call upon them to lead their forces ... through this transition,” said Austin.
Col. Dave Butler, a spokesperson for Milley, was quoted by the outlet as saying that "senior officers were afforded ample opportunity to give advice… closely considered as part of a rigorous national security decision-making process."
However, two anonymous former officials are cited by Politico as pointing to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan as the people really “running the Pentagon”.
“The Pentagon is not making these decisions,” they claim.
Biden’s decision has also been commented on by lawmakers and congressional aides, who are cited by the publication as concurring that military officials were pushing for a ‘residual force’ rather than a complete withdrawal.
“The civilian leaders essentially overruled the generals on this,” a lawmaker briefed on the deliberations was quoted as saying.
Jake Sullivan, claim sources, did not clash with Anthony Blinken or Joe Biden on the withdrawal decision, while Austin’s role was reportedly to prevent the Joint Staff from “going rogue.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hand-picked by Biden to head the Pentagon because he would follow orders, suggest officials referenced by the outlet.
After the publication of the report in Politico, Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, sent a statement to the outlet, denouncing the storyline as “completely inaccurate and poorly-informed” coming from former officials who were not even part of the policy process the Biden Administration ran on Afghanistan.
“The President, as the Commander in Chief, made the final decision based on the advice of his national security team,” concluded Horne.
A Decision to ‘Regret’
Joe Biden announced the move to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan on Wednesday, underscoring that the reasons for staying in Afghanistan had "become increasingly unclear", and that the US had "accomplished all that we can militarily".
The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in November 2001 upon reports of the Taliban's sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, believed by Washington to have masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As a result, the US and NATO forces found themselves mired in a protracted insurgency against the Taliban, that has since claimed the lives of over 65,000 Afghan security forces personnel, over 3,500 coalition troops, nearly 4,000 Western mercenaries, between 67,000 and 72,000 Taliban fighters, and over 38,000 civilians.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," Biden added in his televised Wednesday address.
He acknowledged that he had conducted lengthy consultations with his advisers, as well as making calls to predecessors, including former President Barack Obama and ex-POTUS George W. Bush.
@potus spoke with both President Bush and @BarackObama during separate calls yesterday. While we are not going to read out private conversations, he values their opinions and wanted them both to hear directly from him about his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) April 14, 2021
Obama released a statement in the wake of the announced pull out, applauding Biden’s “bold leadership.”
After nearly two decades in Afghanistan, it’s time to recognise that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and bring our remaining troops home. I support @POTUS’s bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world. pic.twitter.com/BrDzASXD3G— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 14, 2021
However, a chorus of critics have since voiced concerns over the potential implications of the move.
David Petraeus, the former CIA chief and commander of US troops in Afghanistan, was reported as warning that the Taliban have shown no eagerness to participate in intra-Afghan peace talks.
After the US withdrawal, the Taliban will likely overrun the country and allow terrorist groups such as al Qaeda to reconstitute, he said.
“I’m really afraid that we’re going to look back two years ago and regret the decision,” said Petraeus said on a video conference call reported by Defense One.
Republican lawmakers have also questioned the drawdown move. Sen. Lindsey Graham has warned that President Joe Biden’s commitment to fully withdraw American forces from Afghanistan by 11 September is "paving the way" for another 9/11.
"With all due respect to President Biden, you have not ended the war, you've extended it. You have made it bigger, not smaller," said the senior United States Senator from South Carolina during a Capitol Hill press conference.
Sen. Lindsey Graham on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan: "President Biden, unfortunately, has chosen the highest risk option available, which is to leave no matter what." pic.twitter.com/HYlQnIjy66— The Hill (@thehill) April 14, 2021
The cited fears feed into gloomy forecasts by a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that suggested a peace deal was unlikely in Afghanistan next year.
“The US ability to collect intelligence and act on threats will diminish when American troops leave Afghanistan,” CIA Director William Burns testified on Wednesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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