A day after giving their assessments of the end of the war in Afghanistan and future terror threats that may emanate from the country, the top U.S. military officials return Wednesday to Capitol Hill to testify before another congressional panel about the conclusion of the two-decade mission.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, and General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, are all due to appear before the House Armed Services Committee.
At a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, lawmakers both praised the decision to end the country’s longest war and condemned its final days as a debacle.
Austin defended the evacuation, saying that while not perfect it went as smoothly as possible and that no other military could have done better.
“It was the largest airlift conducted in U.S. history, and it was executed in just 17 days,” he told committee members. ”We planned to evacuate between 70,000 and 80,000 people. They evacuated more than 124,000.”
“It was a logistical success but a strategic failure,” Milley, the nation’s top-ranking military officer, told lawmakers of America’s final days in Kabul, which saw the evacuation of 124,000 people, including about 6,000 Americans.
Milley said the final outcome, with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, “is a cumulative effect of 20 years, not 20 days.”
He also warned of the potential threat from terror groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State Khorasan Province, also known as IS Khorasan or ISIS-K. IS Khorasan is an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group.
McKenzie cited the 2020 Doha agreement, which set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying it “had a profound psychological effect” on Afghan forces and may have hastened their collapse.
“The Taliban were heartened by what they saw happen at Doha and what followed and our eventual decision to get out by a certain date,” McKenzie said. “I think the Afghans were very weakened by that morally and spiritually.”