Gen. Mark Milley advised Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that he was "conflating" a strategic loss in Afghanistan with the operational success of withdrawing from the country.
During a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Hawley asked Milley if he had advised President Joe Biden that withdrawing the 2,500 remaining troops by mid-July would "negatively impact" the ability to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan.
"Did you warn about that possibility of drawing down so quickly before a civilian evacuation was underway?" Hawley wondered.
But Milley suggested that Hawley had a fundamental misunderstanding about the role of the remaining 2,500 troops.
"It's more complicated than that," Milley said. "The drawdown of the forces ... those guys are advisers. The [Noncombatant Evacuation Operations] NEO troops, our Marine Expeditionary unit, [Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force] and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division -- that's what you need in order to do the NEO."
"But the April piece and the drawdown of the advisers, that's a separate and distinct task," he explained. "Those 2,500 advisers weren't the guys bringing out the American citizens anyway. Those were the advisers to the Afghan security forces."
According to Milley, military planners were aware that the Afghan government would eventually collapse after the 2,500 advisers were removed.
"The advisers are already gone by mid-July, there is still a government, there is still an Afghan army and the assumption was that it would remain and the mission was to keep the embassy open, secure the embassy, transition that off to contractors," he said. "None of that happened because that army and that government collapsed very rapidly."
The general went on to point out that the Department of Defense had developed contingency plans in case the Afghan government failed.
"There was a plan for a rapid collapse," he said. "That's why all those aircraft showed up. That wasn't done without planning. That was done with planning. From an operational and tactical standpoint, that was a success."
Milley added: "Strategically the war was lost. The enemy was in Kabul. So you have a strategic failure while you simultaneously have an operational and tactical success by the soldiers on the ground. So I think we're conflating some things that we need to separate in this after-action review process."
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