In another testy, day-long hearing, America’s top generals refused to explain how America decided to leave Afghanistan. Every horrifying detail of our withdrawal has been well publicized, but still the decision to leave doesn’t make sense. The general’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee failed to rectify the glaring discrepancy between their military judgment that America should leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan — delivered to Congress under oath — and President Biden’s declaration that no one told him we should leave any troops there.
This leads the American people to a few possible conclusions — all of them bad. Congressman Mike Johnson (R-La.) summarized, “There’s only three possibilities here, either the president lied to the American people or he legitimately cannot remember the counsel of his top military advisers in winding down the longest war in American history, or you have not been fully accurate under oath.” Last month in an interview, President Biden insisted none of his advisors recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, or at least, “no one said that to me that I can recall.” The generals repeatedly evaded questions with an irrelevant technicality. “I cannot share advice I give the president,” said General Kenneth McKenzie, but he did admit, in his judgment, “the appropriate level of our forces in Afghanistan should have been 2,500.” “I think we can take that to mean that you gave him that advice,” Johnson responded.
But questioning the generals was not entirely useless. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said they “got confirmation regarding Bagram Air Base.” It was “the decision of the State Department and the White House,” she said, to reduce the troop presence in Afghanistan from 2,500 to 650, which was “the minimum that was needed in order to protect the embassy” in Kabul. “Then, of course, the order came further to go down to zero.” No wonder the retreat was such a disaster! Generals understand better than politicians or diplomats what military presence a strategic situation demands. We supposedly learned that lesson the hard way in Vietnam, but it seems like we have forgotten after 50 years.
The generals also confirmed that when American forces evacuated Bagram Air Base without warning overnight, they left “tens of billions of dollars of military equipment” behind, said Hartzler, “enough equipment that [the Taliban] conducted a military parade.” If they kept all the aircraft the U.S. left behind, “the Taliban has the third largest air force of any country in the world.”
America has yet to experience the worst of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hartzler explained, “as part of us abandoning Bagram Air Base, we abandoned this prison and we believe there’s between five and seven thousand ISIS terrorists, as well as Taliban terrorists.” According to media reports, “[a former prisoner] was the one that carried out the suicide bombing” that killed 13 servicemembers. When Hartzler asked if the reports were true, “Secretary Austin talked and talked and wouldn’t give the answer.”
Regardless, abandoning Bagram and all Afghanistan “is endangering us into the future,” warned Hartzler. The generals estimated that “al Qaida and ISIS will be reconstituted and will once again be a threat to us here in the United States” sometime between six months and three years from now. After spending 20 years, trillions of dollars, hundreds of lives, and quite a bit of political capital in the war against terror, the United States had pretty well quashed the threat. But all the reports indicate that the Biden administration politicos overruled the generals and voluntarily took us back to square one because they wanted to eliminate a footprint of 2,500 soldiers on a military base.