Debating Afghanistan exit, Biden rejected generals’ opinions

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Military officials who had become frustrated dealing with Mr Trump, an unpredictable president who often blinded them with tweets indicating that US troops would return from one military engagement or another, said the possibility of dealing with a president who would actually go through the political process before announcing a decision was welcome. But they also knew from the start that the methods they had employed with Mr. Trump might no longer work.

The Defense Department had pushed back an effort by Mr. Trump to abruptly withdraw all remaining U.S. troops by last Christmas. Mr Trump ultimately ordered the force to be reduced by about half – to 2,500, the smallest presence in Afghanistan envisioned by US counterterrorism planners, of 4,500.

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In the new president, Pentagon officials and senior commanders remained hopeful that because Mr. Biden campaigned during the Obama years to maintain a small counterterrorism force in Afghanistan (as opposed to 100,000 troops), they might have a nicer ear. .

Shortly after Mr. Austin was sworn in on January 22, two days after the inauguration, he, General Milley and two senior officers – General Austin S. Miller, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, and General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of Army Central Command, was about to recommend that 3,000 to 4,500 troops remain in Afghanistan.

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The Pentagon’s behind-the-scenes efforts were supported by a congressional-appointed group led by a friend of the four: General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a retired four-star naval general who was also a former commanding officer in chief in Afghanistan. and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On February 3, he recommended that the Biden administration drop the May 1 exit deadline negotiated with the Taliban and reduce US forces further only as security conditions improve.

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The Afghanistan Study Group report, a bipartisan panel examining the February 2020 peace deal under the Trump administration, found that troop withdrawal on the basis of a strict timeline, rather than how the Taliban joined the accord to reduce violence and improve security. , threatened the stability of the country and a potential civil war once international forces left.