- Title: Afghan army collapse 'took us all by surprise,' U.S. Defense Secretary Austin
- Date: 28th September 2021
- Summary: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (SEPTEMBER 28, 2021) (UNRESTRICTED POOL) WIDE OF DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN AND CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF OF STAFF MARK MILLEY SEATED DURING SENATE HEARING (SOUNDBITE) (English) LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYING: "We helped build the state, Mr. Chairman, but we could not forge a nation. The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away in many cases without firing a shot took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise. We need to consider some uncomfortable truths. That we didn't fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in the senior ranks. That we didn't grasp the damaging effect effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders, that we didn't anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement. And that the Doha agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on Afghan soldiers. And finally, that we fail to grasp that there was only so much for which and for whom many of the Afghan forces would fight. We provided the Afghan military with equipment and aircraft and the skills to use them. Over the years, they often fought bravely. Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police died, but in the end, we couldn't provide them with the will to win, at least not all of them. And as a veteran of that war, I am personally reckoning with all of that. But I hope, as I said at the outset, that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride. In the way that our people fought it. They prevented another 9/11. They showed extraordinary courage and compassion in the war in the war's last days, and they made lasting progress in Afghanistan that the Taliban will find difficult to reverse and that the international community should work hard to preserve." WIDE OF LAWMAKERS LISTENING (SOUNDBITE) (English) LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYING: "At the height of this operation, an aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes and not a single sortie was missed for maintenance, fuel or logistical problems. It was the largest air airlift conducted in U.S. history and it was executed in 17 days. Was it perfect? Of course not. We moved so many people so quickly out of Kabul that we ran into capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside Afghanistan. And we're still working to get Americans out who wish to leave, and we did not get out, all of our Afghan allies enrolled in a special immigrant visa program. We take that seriously, and that's why we're working across the interagency to continue facilitating their departure." WIDE OF HEARING (SOUNDBITE) (English) GENERAL MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF SAYING: "It is clear, it is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul. Although the (unintelligible) was unprecedented and as the largest air evacuation in history, evacuating 124,000 people, it came at an incredible cost of 11 Marines, one soldier and a Navy corpsman. Those 13 gave their lives so that people they never met will have an opportunity to live in freedom. And we must remember that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organization and they still have not broken ties with al-Qaida. 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. But we must continue to protect the United States of America and its people from terrorist attacks coming from Afghanistan. A reconstituted al-Qaida or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility, and those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months. That mission will be much harder now, but not impossible. And we will continue to protect the American people." WIDE OF LAWMAKERS LISTENING
- Embargoed: 12th October 2021 16:06
- Keywords: Afghanistan Lloyd Austin Mark Milley
- Location: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES
- City: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES
- Country: US
- Topics: Defence,Government/Politics,United States
- Reuters ID: LVA001EWMTNWN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday (September 28) that the Afghan army's sudden collapse caught the Pentagon off-guard as he acknowledged miscalculations in America's longest war including corruption and damaged morale in Afghan ranks.
"The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away - in many cases without firing a shot - took us all by surprise," Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"It would be dishonest to claim otherwise."
Austin was speaking at the start of two days of what are expected to be some of the most contentious hearings in memory over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Taliban back in power.
The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military are holding hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on what they see as mistakes that President Joe Biden's administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.
It follows similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.
Austin praised American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.
"Was it perfect? Of course not," Austin said, noting the desperate Afghans who killed trying to climb the side of a U.S. military aircraft or the civilians killed in the last U.S. drone strike of the war.
Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Republican, squarely blamed the Biden administration for what critics say was a shameful end to a 20-year endeavor. Inhofe said Biden ignored the recommendations of his military leaders and left many Americans behind after the U.S. withdrawal.
Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.
(Production: Kia Johnson)
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