Defense Secretary Tells Senate About US Miscalculations In Afghanistan

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, explained a number of hard truths of lessons learned from Afghanistan.

“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” the U.S. Defense chief told the Committee Tuesday, summarizing the United States’ 20-year involvement in the war-torn country.

Austin gave context to the U.S. decisions in Afghanistan and also detailed the U.S. actions while the Government succumbed to the Taliban onslaught.

The United States spent billions outfitting and training Afghan security forces over the 20 year conflict. “The fact that the Afghan army [that] we and our partners trained simply melted away — in many cases without firing a shot — took us all by surprise,” Austin said. “It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”

The Secretary said American leaders need to consider some uncomfortable truths regarding the Afghan military. The United States underestimated the damage that corruption in the Afghan military’s senior ranks played in building the security forces. “We did not grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by [former Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani of his commanders,” Austin said.

In addition, the Doha Agreement — negotiated between the United States and the Taliban — had a negative effect on Afghan government forces, according to the four-star General.

“We did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha Agreement, that the Doha Agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on Afghan soldiers, and that we failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which — and for whom — many of the Afghan forces would fight,” Austin said.

“Over 20 years, tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police died in battle. Many fought bravely, but, in the end, we couldn’t provide them with the will to win,” the Secretary said.

Austin also addressed questions that arose following the most successful mass, non-combatant airlift evacuation in history, which exceeded all expectations.

Austin told the Senate Committee members that extending the U.S. troop withdrawal beyond the August 31 deadline would have greatly imperiled U.S. human resources and its mission.

“The Taliban made clear that their cooperation would end on the first of September, and as you know, we faced grave and growing threats from ISIS-K. Staying longer than we did would have made it even more dangerous for our people and would not have significantly changed the number of evacuees who we could get out.”

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