MIL-OSI USA: King Questions General Milley on “Significant” Military Risk If U.S. Remained in Afghanistan Beyond August 31st


US Senate News:

Source: United States Senator for Maine Angus King
Click HERE to watch Senator King’s afternoon session of the hearing and HERE to download broadcast-quality video 
Click HERE to watch Senator King’s morning session of the hearing and HERE to download broadcast-quality video 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today pressed U.S. military leaders on their assessments preceding the Afghanistan withdrawal initiated in negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban, and the advice they provided President Biden regarding the best ways to keep American troops and citizens safe during August evacuations. In response to Senator King’s questioning, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, responded that maintaining a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the initial August 31st deadline would have required a significant increase in troops and predicted any ensuing effort to clear Kabul of Taliban forces and maintain the status quo would have resulted in “significant amounts” of U.S. military casualties. 
“The discussion that we’ve had thus far today is a peculiar one about decisions, and the assumption seems to be that you could make a different decision – for example, on August 31st – and everything would have been OK and we would have gotten more people out,” said Senator King. “My understanding, General Milley, is that it was your view that making that decision to go beyond August 31st – and I’m using this as an example – would have had consequences, which you and your colleagues judged would be far more damaging and dangerous to American lives, than the decision to leave on August 31st, including being back at war with the Taliban, subject to terrorist attacks, and subject to, perhaps, airplanes being shot down by the Taliban. Am I right about this, where the risk calculus was?”
“That’s correct, Senator,” General Milley responded. “We said risk to mission, risk to force, and risks to remaining American citizens in Afghanistan was going to go to extremely high beginning 1 September if we stayed past [August] 31st with U.S. military forces. When we talk “risk to force” we are specifically talking casualties, killed and wounded. And our estimate, my estimate at the time – this is 25 August we’re talking about – is if we go to war with the Taliban on the 1st of September – there were 6000 Taliban and 56 checkpoints in Kabul at that time – we would have had to clear Kabul, we’d have had to re-seize Bagram and the 30 miles of road in between Bagram and Kabul – that would have taken a significant amount of force. We’re looking at probably a [Marine] Corps operation. My guess is that we would have had significant amounts of killed and wounded.”
Earlier in the day, Senator King asked General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Commander of CENTCOM, to expand on how Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country in August contributed to the collapse of the Afghan military and government.
“General McKenzie, you touched on something that you were the only one to mention in this entire hearing, in my judgment, one of the key moments was the fleeing of President Ghani and that that is in fact what really pulled the rug out from under the military and demoralize the entire government, said Senator King. “That was really not the beginning of the end. The end of the end. Do you do you have some thoughts on that?”
“I think when we consider what happened to the Afghan military, you have to consider it linked, completely linked to what happened to the Afghan government. And when your president flees literally on no notice in the middle of the day, that has a profoundly debilitating effect on everything else,” General McKenzie responded. “Now, events were pretty far along on 15 August, so I would note that, but I do believe it is possible they could have fought and held parts of Kabul had the president stayed. I think that really demoralized those remnants of Afghans, and there were still considerable Afghan combat formations around Kabul on 15 August. I believe they were really disorganized by that and led to the Taliban really pushing in as fast as they wanted to go into the center of the city.”
Senator King, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, has been vocal about the need for additional answers on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Earlier this month, he published an op-ed in TIME urging against a rush to assign blame until all of the facts are clear, and committing to engaging in congressional oversight through hearings such as this. In the piece, Senator King wrote that “the problem, of course, is that layered complexity or waiting for more information doesn’t make for the most compelling television or analysis, but this doesn’t make it any less important that we search for it—for ourselves and for the men and women who served, who deserve clear answers to difficult questions.”
In the lead up to the Afghanistan withdrawal, Senator King cosponsored the bipartisan Afghan Allies Protection Act, to help protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission, and highlighted the need to protect our Afghan partners, while raising awareness and pressure for needed action from the Biden Administration. Additionally, he pressed a top Defense Department nominee in Senate testimony for his commitment to prioritize efforts to bring America’s Afghan partners to safety, and joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues to urge President Joe Biden to streamline the SIV program for Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States.