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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Afghanistan: US General Mark Milley faces questions


The top US general and the secretary of defence are being questioned in Congress over the military withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on August 15, US troops were forced to accelerate their withdrawal.

Senator and committee chairman Jack Reed stated that lawmakers want to know if the US “missed indicators” of the government’s impending collapse.

The United States has stated that it will now focus on counter-terrorism missions.

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing comes just weeks after a chaotic withdrawal at Kabul airport as foreign powers tried to get their citizens home and thousands of desperate Afghans begged for help.

During the withdrawal operation, 182 people were killed by a suicide bomber. On August 26, the airport gate killed thirteen US service members and at least 169 Afghans.

The hearing on Tuesday began with opening testimony from Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was followed by Gen Mark Milley.

Kenneth McKenzie, another US general, will also appear. He oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan as the commander of US Central Command.

The United States first sent troops into Afghanistan in late 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. By the time they left, the US had spent approximately $985 billion (£724 billion) and deployed tens of thousands of troops, reaching a peak of 110,000 in 2011.

The US evacuated its remaining 4,000 troops in the weeks between the fall of Kabul and the 31 August withdrawal deadline. It is also transporting approximately 50,000 Afghan refugees who were airlifted from Kabul.

In the days following the Taliban takeover, crowds gathered at the airport killed up to 20 people.

Who is Gen Mark Milley?

  • He’s Joe Biden’s top military adviser – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the committee of the eight highest-ranking military officials)
  • He’s not part of the chain of command with the military and does not order US forces
  • However, he is the link between the White House and the Pentagon
  • He was a four-star officer and the Army Chief of Staff before being appointed to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October 2019

On Tuesday, Gen. Milley is expected to face tough questions, particularly from Republicans who have called for his dismissal.

He and Gen McKenzie will almost certainly be questioned about a US drone strike in Kabul on August 29 that killed ten innocent members of a single family.

Following the attack, Gen McKenzie stated that US intelligence had tracked a car belonging to one of the family members, an aid worker, believing it was linked to an Islamic State (IS) branch.

The attack was initially described as a “righteous strike” by Gen. Milley. After the Pentagon determined that all of the dead were civilians, he apologised, admitting that he had spoken too soon.

It emerged recently that he held phone conversations with the Chinese military following concerns about then-President Donald Trump.

The phone calls were revealed in a book by journalist Bob Woodward, who also stated that Gen Milley told his staff that if Mr Trump ordered a nuclear strike, he would need to confirm it before it was carried out.

Gen. Milley’s spokesman defended the calls, saying they were part of his responsibility to maintain “strategic stability.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio called it “treasonous.”

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