Worst Military Advice

President Biden was advised to keep troops in Afghanistan . . . for no apparent reason.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief the media, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The headlines from yesterday’s testimony by senior Pentagon officials to Congress, not surprisingly, focuses on what seems to be a rather serious contradiction between with what President Biden has told us about his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan:

NYT (“Top defense officials acknowledge they advised against withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan.”):

Top U.S. military officers acknowledged publicly for the first time that they had advised President Biden not to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan ahead of the chaotic evacuation during which 13 American service members were killed.

Appearing before a Senate panel, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that military leaders were able to give their advice to the president during the lead-up to Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw. But, the general said, “Decision makers are not required in any manner or form to follow that advice.”

General Milley testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command. Both men, along with General Milley, were said to have advised Mr. Biden not to withdraw all troops. During the hearing, Generals Milley and McKenzie confirmed that.

WaPo (“Military leaders, refusing to fault Biden, say troop withdrawal ensured Afghanistan’s collapse“):

The Pentagon leaders who presided over the Afghanistan war’s conclusion said Tuesday that they had predicted Kabul’s government and its military would “collapse” after the United States’ departure but refused to fault President Biden for withdrawing U.S. forces, even as they agreed the haphazard exit was a “strategic failure.”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff, and Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they had advised both Biden and his predecessor, President Donald Trump, to keep at least 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan. It was his belief, Milley said, that “an accelerated withdrawal” risked losing “substantial gains” made over two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, “damaging U.S. worldwide credibility and . . . resulting in a complete Taliban takeover or general civil war.”

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time Milley, McKenzie and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have faced lawmakers publicly since last month’s evacuation from Kabul, a deadly 17-day race that has left unresolved the future of counterterrorism operations and the fate of Americans who remain stranded. Much of the session involved lawmakers, depending on their party, trying to enlist the generals’ support in blaming either Trump or Biden for the failures of the past and Afghanistan’s uncertain future.

Axios (“Top Pentagon officials grilled on Afghanistan“):

Top military leaders confirmed in a Senate hearing Tuesday they recommended earlier this year that the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and that they believed withdrawing those forces would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military.

Why it matters: Biden denied last month that his top military advisers wanted troops to remain in Afghanistan, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “No one said that to me that I can recall.”

So, either Biden is lying here or his memory is failing him at a level that should cause grave concern about his ability to carry out the duties of his office. Neither of those prospects is comforting.

Still, if the point of the hearings was to dunk on Biden’s judgment regarding the withdrawal, there wasn’t a lot of ammunition. Milley stressed the shopworn concept of “best military advice” and rightly noted that elected policymakers are not required to take it. In this case, one can certainly question the wisdom of said advice. As summarized in the above-linked Axios report:

  • On the chaotic evacuation: Austin said in his opening statement that military leaders began planning for a non-combatant evacuation of Kabul as early as the spring, and that this is the only reason U.S. troops were able to start the operation so quickly when the Taliban captured the city. “Was it perfect? Of course not,” Austin acknowledged.
  • On abandoning Bagram Air Base: Austin told senators that keeping Bagram, the center of U.S. operations in Afghanistan for two decades, would have required an additional 5,000 troops and provided little value for evacuation efforts. “Staying at Bagram — even for counterterrorism purposes — meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear he would not do,” Austin said.
  • On the collapse of the Afghan security forces: “We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” Austin said. “The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
  • On recommendations for the withdrawal: Milley said in an opening statement that his analysis in the fall of 2020 was that a rapid U.S. withdrawal without the Taliban meeting specific conditions could result in the collapse of the Afghan government and damage U.S. credibility. “That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout,” Milley said.
  • On Russian bases in Central Asia: Austin denied that the U.S. has asked Vladimir Putin for permission to use Russian military bases to launch counterterrorism operations against targets in Afghanistan but confirmed that Milley was seeking “clarification” on an offer from Putin concerning this issue.
  • On U.S. credibility: “I think that our credibility with allies and partners around the world and with adversaries is being intensely reviewed by them to see which way this is going to go. And I think that ‘damage’ is one word that could be used, yes,” Milley told senators.
  • On “over the horizon” counterterrorism: McKenzie said the U.S. does have the limited ability to monitor terrorist threats from outside Afghanistan, telling senators: “We’re still refining the best practices on that, but we do have a way forward.” He said that details on the strategy are best left to a classified setting.
  • On the Trump-Taliban peace deal: McKenzie told senators that “the primary accelerant to lowering morale and general efficiency of the Afghan military” was the Doha peace agreement, which the Afghans believed was “forced on them.”

As strategist Steven Metz put it,

I’m struggling to understand the logic of yesterday’s testimony from DoD leaders. I heard: 1) they recommended leaving a residual force; 2) if they left a residual force it wouldn’t deter or stop the Taliban’s offensive; and 3) the endstate was going to be the same anyway.

Longtime WaPo defense reporter Greg Jaffe concurs,

Why spend taxpayers’ money and drop bombs that will undoubtedly kill Afghan civilians if you’re not going to alter the end state? It feels morally wrong.

The bottom line was that there was never going to be an optimal time to leave Afghanistan. The government never controlled the territory and was never going to. The security forces were never going to stand up to the Taliban once was left. Leaving American forces and continuing to sporadically use drone strikes simply prolonged the inevitable and likely not for long.

It is often observed by civil-military relations scholars that senior uniformed officers tend to give decision-makers only one real option because the others are so unpalatable. As more than one has joked, it’s often “World War III or nothing.” Here, Milley and company were essentially warning of dire consequences unless we continued our presence indefinitely. And even then.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Joe Biden, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It seems to me that the military hates to be sidelined, they don’t like becoming superfluous. Who does? And when things reach a point where the obvious is undeniable, they will deny it anyway.

    I guess they are human after all.

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  2. Tony W says:

    For several years I owned a house in a fancy neighborhood in San Diego. It is the kind of neighborhood where the local mayoral candidates made a point of stopping and speaking at our monthly neighborhood dinners.

    Also at these dinners, the police chief would make an appearance at least annually, bringing along their community liaison to show us the crime maps for our area.

    As it turns out, lower crime is not the goal of the police department, because lower crime threatens their budget and their empire-building goals. They spent considerable effort in these meetings persuading us that we were under constant threat, and the only thing keeping us safe from the hoards of the inner-city was the SDPD.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    In general, I have a great deal of respect for our military, and still do. But as near as I can tell, no-one in the military every takes responsibility for anything. It is always, always, always the civilians fault. Understand, I’m not saying that the civilians or the military could have done anything different and we would have ended up with 1960’s Japan or Germany instead of the collapse into chaos and despotism the minute we left. I’m simply saying that the military tendency to say, “We were blameless and everything would have worked out if only the civilians had listened to us!” is cowardly and irresponsible. The truth is that the civilians couldn’t meet their objectives and neither could the military. They might have been impossible, but that doesn’t change reality.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve read a few good books on Iraq. Is there anything good on Afghanistan? Particularly the transition from attacking Al Qaeda to nation building. My impression is that W transferred his attention to Iraq and kind of left it to the military to define their own mission in Afghanistan. Was there ever a clear mission statement?

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m struggling to understand the logic of yesterday’s testimony from DoD leaders. I heard: 1) they recommended leaving a residual force; 2) if they left a residual force it wouldn’t deter or stop the Taliban’s offensive; and 3) the endstate was going to be the same anyway.

    My reaction as well. Just nonsense.

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  6. KM says:

    The point of the military is to doing something, not just exist. If not given something to do, they will *find* something…. or make something up. If Afghanistan wasn’t able to survive in the form we shaped without us constantly to prop it up, of course we could never leave. They thought they had created job security for decades to come. Keeping Bagram alone would have been enough to ensure a steady flow of cash and resources towards a base in “hostile” areas.

    Funny thing is had TFG not played footsie with the Taliban, Biden would have likely agreed to a few thousand troops there like they wanted with intent to phase out by end of his term as that would have been “conventional wisdom”. He was handed a blank check by the GOP to end a two-decade war and he took it. He made the best of a bad deal and it’s foolish to pretend it would have ended differently at the org deadline.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    I posted yesterday on the evils of bothsides, he-said-she-said journalism. Let me add gotcha journalism. The real story here is that “the Blob” wanted him to do something silly and Biden decided not to. But the supposedly liberal MSM, not to mention FOX, will jump all over any apparent contradiction between what Biden said and what the generals said. And GOPs will eagerly join in, faulting Biden for not blindly following military advice. While maintaining the Blob as a MAGA bete noire.

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  8. Kathy says:

    Going by McMaster’s book, Dereliction of Duty, about how Johnson ran the Vietnam war, disregarding the advise from the Chiefs is like the worst sin a president can commit. Almost as if Abraham had told Jehovah, “My own son? Are you insane?”

    Granted there’s an expert advisory board on military matters for a reason. But 1) this doesn’t mean their advise is always right, and 2) Biden isn’t president of the war in Afghanistan, but of the whole country. there are matters other than military ones to consider.

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  9. Pylon says:

    @gVOR08: yes, to me, Biden is clearly just protecting his generals (perhaps at his own expense).

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Going by McMaster’s book, Dereliction of Duty, about how Johnson ran the Vietnam war, disregarding the advise from the Chiefs is like the worst sin a president can commit.

    If Lincoln had listened to his generals, McClellan would still be drilling his troops in Virginia.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    One of the problems with relying on the Chiefs, is that they represent competing services, and within those services competing specialties. Their advice will be likely to be a compromise that gives the Air Force something to do and thus a need for expensive new equipment, and the Marines something to do that will also require more toys, and of course the Army and, hey, you’re not leaving out armor are you? I mean, we have all these tanks. . . And surely there’s a role for attack submarines in Afghanistan. Then there’s careerism and interpersonal rivalries to go along with the organizational rivalries.

    So, maybe they give good advice, and maybe they don’t. The fact that Gen. Milley and Sec. Austin could not manage to work out between them a coherent explanation is not encouraging.

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And surely there’s a role for attack submarines in Afghanistan.

    Are we sure DARPA did not con Benito the Cheeto a few billions to develop a fast attack subterrene?

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  13. just nutha says:

    @MarkedMan: It may be because I’m too cynical or have drifted into the old man shouting at the clouds phase of my life, but I don’t have any respect for the military at all any more. I still respect individuals who commit to serving the country and thank them for their service. But the institution has managed to make itself seem vile. I suspect the whole “no-one in the military [leadership] every takes responsibility for anything” and the whole “just give us a few troops and another decade” thing have worn me out.

    At least McCain was honest when he talked about occupying Iraq for a thousand years. Disquieting. But honest. He was a good symbol of what the professional military looks like–eternal war combined with “I got mine, FU” attitude toward the soldiers human resources.

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  14. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In general, I have a great deal of respect for our military, and still do. But as near as I can tell, no-one in the military every takes responsibility for anything. It is always, always, always the civilians fault.

    The military recently took responsibility for mistakenly killing an aid worker and several children. I can’t count the number of time the military took responsibility for similar tactical and operational errors.

    Strategic failure is another matter. The war in Afghanistan failed because the stated goals were not achievable. The fecklessness and corruption of the (former) Afghan government and the inability of Afghan institutions to include the Afghan military to gel into a somewhat cohesive entity is not a military failure. Or, said another way, there is and was no alternative actions the military could have taken that would have achieved our goals in Afghanistan.

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  15. Andy says:

    Here, Milley and company were essentially warning of dire consequences unless we continued our presence indefinitely.

    Yeah, that’s been the case for a decade, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out.

    Also, I don’t have the link handy, but during Trump’s term Milley unintentionally stated (I think it was a leak) that he had essentially bought into the sunk costs fallacy. That’s not an unusual view.

    It’s been very difficult for Afghan vets, including myself, to deal with the reality that all the physical, mental, spiritual, and moral damage incurred was completely wasted and all for nothing.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    The military recently took responsibility for mistakenly killing an aid worker and several children.

    Not quite. They first claimed it was a righteous shoot. Then came the New York Times. At which point the military admitted they killed the wrong guy (and his family) but insisted he had visited an ISIS safe house. Then came the New York Times again, and that story fell apart, too: no ISIS safe house. Now they’re down to, ‘well, he was in a white car and there was this other white car. . .’

    I don’t have a problem with the use of drones, and I understand that mistakes are inevitable and innocent people get killed. (See: 100,000 dead in the firebombing of Tokyo.) But this is not an example of military transparency, it’s an example of the military nailed to the wall by excellent reporting.

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  17. Mimai says:

    There’s an implication (sometimes it’s a clear assertion) to a lot of these discussions. That the military’s (institution and/or leaders) advice, decisions, behaviors, etc. are driven by “make work” incentives and desire for power/importance.

    Indeed, sometimes it is outright asserted that the military is advising/behaving this way on purpose. Though to be sure, other times the language is softer and more forgiving. Disclosure: I’ve used both types of language in past discussions about the military, though not on this one.

    I don’t have an informed opinion on this particular issue. But this implication/assertion (about military incentives) strikes me as awfully close to what Trump said about medical facilities/providers and covid. More specifically, that they were incentivized to overreport cases and causes of death. To be sure, Trump said it in his typically noxious way and with all the baggage from past statements.

    My point is not to suggest that one implication/assertion is more “correct” than the other, but rather to note that they are similar (though not identical) enough. Which makes it interesting to ponder and contrast my own knee jerk reactions to them.

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  18. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Well the real reason is actually rather clear – avoidance of the final responsibility for the completely inevitable outcome. So easy to spend a bit of other people’s money and other people’s lives to avoid
    @Andy: partial agreement

    The war in Afghanistan failed because the stated goals were not achievable. The fecklessness and corruption of the (former) Afghan government and the inability of Afghan institutions to include the Afghan military to gel into a somewhat cohesive entity is not a military failure. Or, said another way, there is and was no alternative actions the military could have taken that would have achieved our goals in Afghanistan.

    Once the USA and allies decided to try to set up an Afghan state based on industrialised countries centralised bureaucracies, the die was cast, and failure achieved.

    Had a decentralised tribal state been admitted as the least-bad option, and perhaps had the Afghan king in exile been allowed to return (not to be monarchist at all, simply accounts of the time indicate the option has legitimate Afghan traction) maybe a route to non-failure could have been opened.

    Of course in the international politics of 2001, American but also European, this was probably impossible

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  19. DAllenABQ says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The firebombing of Tokyo was not a mistake, it was a purposeful use of B-29s flying at low level dropping napalm-like incendiaries onto a largely wooden structure city. Killing people was the point, civilian or no.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    It’s been very difficult for Afghan vets, including myself, to deal with the reality that all the physical, mental, spiritual, and moral damage incurred was completely wasted and all for nothing.

    Only the last 15 years or so was for nothing. Maybe 18. We did disrupt and destroy al Qaeda’s ability to operate in Afghanistan at the start of the war. There were points along the way where the Taliban wanted to negotiate, and we didn’t. Lots of missed opportunities.

    I continue to believe that if we had focused heavily on corruption within the new Afghan government, so interactions with the government and government forces was predictable and dependable, that this might have made a difference with the government’s ability to survive without us. This would have involved things such as actually ensuring the soldiers and police got paid, and weren’t dependant on whatever they could shake out of the people they were supposed to be serving.

    As it was, however, the Taliban was preferable, even to the unpaid soldiers and police.

    Anyway, Years 20-25 would have been entirely for nothing. I have no doubt that it’s a kick in the guts for people who served in years 2-19, but I think they were poorly served by the administrations who should not have troops in harm’s way for pointless missions.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    @DAllenABQ: I think Michael’s point was that civilians always get killed in war, whatever methods are chosen.

    I support the drone war reluctantly, because it offers much greater precision. Sure, we killed an aid worker and his family, but we did it with precision — we didn’t blow up the houses of everyone on the same block, or half the neighborhood.

    I think we should be more reluctant to use drone strikes. And I think we may have been making the decision to attack largely because of political pressure to strike something in response to the bombing at the Kabul airport.

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  22. JohnSF says:

    Possibly, just possibly, there is another angle that might be worth a moments consideration for some.

    That surely miniscule, almost infinitesimal, incredibly faint, purely marginal possibility that General Milley was right, and that you are mistaken?

    Just a thought.

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  23. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There was a thread a while ago – can’t find it now – talking about the first reporting that the strike was a mistake. I said then the military was certainly investigating the allegations, that in my judgment the strike was bad, and that the military would report the results – which is what they have done.

    That’s not a lack of transparency unless you believe the military knew the strike was bad and did it anyway and also you’d need to believe that the military knew it wasn’t an ISIS safe house and lied about it.

    I don’t always like to pull out my “expert” card, but this is a case of the military investigating an allegation, determining what went wrong, and then admitting to it. That is the way the process has worked for at least the last 15 years.

    @Lounsbury:

    Had a decentralised tribal state been admitted as the least-bad option, and perhaps had the Afghan king in exile been allowed to return (not to be monarchist at all, simply accounts of the time indicate the option has legitimate Afghan traction) maybe a route to non-failure could have been opened.

    Of course in the international politics of 2001, American but also European, this was probably impossible

    All those things were discussed. And actually, the initial Bush plan was to just fuck-up the Taliban, destroy as much of AQ as possible, and leave the Norther Alliance in charge. That’s when certain voices in the administration pointed out what that would result in (a return to warlordism in Afghanistan), found that to be morally unacceptable, and started looking at options for a permanent, stable government, the disarmament of the militias and warlords, the creation of national institutions including a national army and police force, and even including the former King as either a figurehead or part of a transitional government.

    It was never the US military’s desire to occupy and nation-build, but as time went on, that was double-downed on and the military leadership bought into that groupthink. The biggest mistake the military made, IMO, was supporting the “surge” strategy that Obama campaigned on, believing that would beat back the Taliban enough to get the Afghans on their own two feet.

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  24. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I continue to believe that if we had focused heavily on corruption within the new Afghan government, so interactions with the government and government forces was predictable and dependable, that this might have made a difference with the government’s ability to survive without us. This would have involved things such as actually ensuring the soldiers and police got paid, and weren’t dependant on whatever they could shake out of the people they were supposed to be serving.

    We tried that for many years and gave up. Corruption is endemic to Afghan society, it’s simply not possible for outsiders to come in and change the culture from one of patronage based on clan and kinship to one that prioritizes some kind of national creed. At least it’s not possible on other than generational time-scales.

    Most stable countries in the world are nation-states based on a common ethnic, linguistic, or cultural identity. Afghanistan has and had none of those things. The built-in incentives for ingroup patronage are too strong to overcome, especially for outsiders.

    There were points along the way where the Taliban wanted to negotiate, and we didn’t. Lots of missed opportunities.

    None of the ones I’m aware of were serious. The only thing the Taliban was truly interested in WRT to negotiation was our departure from the country, which Trump accommodated.

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  25. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    You’ve advocated the use of “over the horizon” strikes.

    This illustrates the problem with that; and this was barely “over the fence”.
    There is no magic, infallible, “bullseye on the bad guy” system.

    If your intelligence and targeting is flawed, and flawed it will be, in proportion to you lack of local observation, firepower will miss what you want to hit, and hit what you don’t.

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  26. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m struggling to understand the logic of yesterday’s testimony from DoD leaders. I heard: 1) they recommended leaving a residual force; 2) if they left a residual force it wouldn’t deter or stop the Taliban’s offensive; and 3) the endstate was going to be the same anyway.

    My reaction as well. Just nonsense.

    On it’s own it is, which raises the question why nobody asked the generals to elaborate. IMO that didn’t happen because nobody was looking for more than something to be outraged about. They didn’t want to be informed, they merely wanted talking points.

    Best guess is somebody floated a half-baked idea of keeping a counter-terrorism force there, and with the Talibs blessing.

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  27. Andy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Best guess is somebody floated a half-baked idea of keeping a counter-terrorism force there, and with the Talibs blessing.

    That was advocated for in some quarters for a long time. Others wanted the status quo to continue in the (mistaken in my view) belief that eventually the Afghan government/military/society would get it’s shit together and be able to stand on its own.

    Both those theories were reasonably and honestly held beliefs, even though I think they are wrong. And they were belief’s that were/are most commonly held at the senior policy/military/wonk levels where there is a high degree of groupthink. Those of us who worked in the trenches and weren’t as politically invested in narratives and outcomes were much more skeptical.

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  28. Terrye Cravens says:

    I am not sure Biden or Milley was lying about leaving people over there. After all, when it came down to it Biden asked them if they believed it would be a good idea to leave any people there and they said no. In fact the answer was that if American troops were there on Sep 1st they would be at war with the Taliban. I think they floated the idea of keeping people there because the military never wants to leave anywhere. But once the time for withdrawal came closer their advice changed because the circumstances on the ground changed. Biden was no doubt given a lot of conflicting advice from a lot of people. That does not make anyone a liar.

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  29. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:
    Oh, we could have kept half a million men there for a few decades. The goal was probably achievable, just not for the price and time commitment which the US public would be willing to support. We have a pattern of fooling ourselves that nation building will be quick and cheap.
    This lesson has been learned and unlearned. Abrams tried to bury most of the Army’s logistical capability in the National Guard thinking that it would force politicians to consider major mobilization and involvement of their stashed kids in considering a future Nam. Powell made his Powell Doctrine: Go big and go home.

    The unlearning was driven by politicians. Rumsfeld thought all that stuff garbage. He fired Shinseki for saying it would take more people to occupy Iraq than to take it. After finding himself hip-deep in Iraqi alligators Rummy doubled-down, got Petraeus to sell COIN and quick and cheap. When it wasn’t the US public had had enough, just looking for somebody in the military to blame, but the guys who deserve it are long gone.

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  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: The military objective was to defeat the Taliban army. Did they do that? If they had done that, we would be looking at a completely different situation on the ground.

    It may not have been possible, but neither was the civilian objectives. And the civilian objectives were certainly unobtainable as long as there was an army out there capturing towns and killing people. The civilians talk all the time about how they failed to meet their objectives. The generals never talk about how they failed to meet theirs.

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: Summing up what Michael said, the military gets no kudos for changing their story when they get caught.

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    @Mimai: There is a long distance between biased thinking and outright corruption and you are right that we throw the latter about way too easily. But the effects of the former are often not much different than the latter.

    I dealt with surgeons for a long time, most were top notch. Many were decent, stand-up people. But if there are several different treatments for a disease state, almost always the surgeons truly believed the best treatment was surgery. And for some disease states (prostrate issues come to mind) there were wrong and actively doing harm. But after spending a lot of time with them I don’t believe there were many who were giving that advice corruptly. Thank god there is usually an oncologist in between the patient and the surgeon.

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  33. Lounsbury says:

    @Andy: I would say not that corruption is endemic in Afghan society, rather that it is a patronage based society. It becomes corruption when one imposes a mode of working and a rule set that is alien to that. Trying to impose the industrial society’s centralised state and mechanisms was a fool’s errand.

    the problem with saying corruption is endemic or as a commentator in an August thread said, they have no respect for law (or something to that effect) in part mistakes the problem (and highlights the why of failure).

    @MarkedMan: The US military absolutely defeated the Talebans army. Initially and then repeatedly. But as a certain King Pyrrhus learned, military victories are not a sufficient condition for political victories. Certainly not when you are also not willing and able to commit outright genocide. (of course technically able to commit genocide)

    @dazedandconfused: There is no particular mystery as to the potential. If Americans bothered to read a bit of Central Asian history (not Middle East, Central Asia) and in particular the history of the Soviets imposition of communist rule in their Central Asia ‘stans’… 20s-40s (including the Afghan border neighbours). If you’re willing to commit effective genocide, well yes you can spend some 30 odd years and totally break the society. Given Afghanistan’s even more difficult (than particularly Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan) territory one can reasonably double that.

    Of course the net benefits to America of practicing Bolshevik lessons in pacification in this day and age seem rather meagre if they exist at all

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  34. Mimai says:

    @MarkedMan:

    There is a long distance between biased thinking and outright corruption and you are right that we throw the latter about way too easily. But the effects of the former are often not much different than the latter.

    Not sure about this (“long distance”) as a blanket statement. I agree if we’re talking about the everyday biases that we all demonstrate all the time. But the lines become fuzzy really quickly. And the inertia created by the former can easily (and unbeknownst) lead to the latter. And as you rightly note, the consequences are often indistinguishable.

    My initial point (not very well articulated) was to call attention to our varying (nay biased) reactions to charges of motivated/corrupted advice, behavior, etc. Of course, we can tell ourselves stories about why one is so very different from the other. And these stories may even have some truth kernels. And yet…

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  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: Both those theories were reasonably and honestly held beliefs,

    Honestly held beliefs? I am pretty sure that was so. Reasonably held? Considering how quickly the whole thing collapsed, I think “delusional (y) held” is far more accurate.

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  36. Matt Bernius says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I would say not that corruption is endemic in Afghan society, rather that it is a patronage based society. It becomes corruption when one imposes a mode of working and a rule set that is alien to that.

    Well said.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The military objective was to defeat the Taliban army.

    Was it? Part of the point I tried to make above @gVOR08: was that I don’t know what the mission was. And I’m not sure anyone else did either. I’m sure any number of military officers could tell us what they thought the mission was, but without guidance they would have defaulted to beat the enemy, But was there a properly established mission statement from DoD or the administration?

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  38. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    he military objective was to defeat the Taliban army. Did they do that? If they had done that, we would be looking at a completely different situation on the ground.

    We defeated the Taliban “army” many times. The problem was – and this was realized very early on – that there was no way to decisively defeat the Taliban as an organization as long as their leadership and cadres had a safe haven in Pakistan where they could organize and reconstitute. Pakistan either couldn’t or wouldn’t deny them that safe haven and no sane political leader in the US would order a military invasion of Pakistan to root them out.

    This was a factor that was part of the overall nation-building strategy and why the development of Afghan security force was thought to be a key element and condition for the withdrawal of US forces. That entire strategy depended on a legitimate Afghan government supported by other legitimate institutions to include an Afghan military that would defeat the Taliban at the political level because everyone understood that the Taliban could not be decisively defeated militarily. The US military role, then, was as a holding action to keep the Taliban from militarily threatening the new, then nascent, government, and providing enough security to allow those other institutions to be created.

    Summing up what Michael said, the military gets no kudos for changing their story when they get caught.

    That assertion assumes the military was lying all along. That’s not what happened – the military didn’t decide to wax some random guy and then falsely claim he was ISIS and try to cover anything up. This isn’t the first time this type of thing has happened where what we thought was a good strike turned out to be a terrible mistake.

    A series of major errors of analysis, information, and decision-making resulted in the operators, analysts and leaders who were running that mission to wrongly determine the vehicle in question was a car bomb. After the strike, the press heard rumors that something wasn’t right and investigated and reported this guy wasn’t ISIS. Which is what they should be doing! That then prompted an internal investigation by the military which concluded that yes, indeed, that reporting was right and the guy wasn’t ISIS and therefore it wasn’t a car bomb, and that the entire operation was a mistake. This isn’t a case of the military lying and then changing their story after getting caught, this is a case of how these mistakes ought to be discovered and resolved.

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  39. Andy says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I would say not that corruption is endemic in Afghan society, rather that it is a patronage based society. It becomes corruption when one imposes a mode of working and a rule set that is alien to that. Trying to impose the industrial society’s centralised state and mechanisms was a fool’s errand.

    the problem with saying corruption is endemic or as a commentator in an August thread said, they have no respect for law (or something to that effect) in part mistakes the problem (and highlights the why of failure).

    I agree with you completely here. It was corruption only in the western sense of what we think is normal. From the Afghan POV it wasn’t corrupt at all.

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  40. Ken_L says:

    It’s very disappointing to read Joyner regurgitating the media’s dishonest coverage of this matter, apparently without taking the time to check its veracity.

    Biden never “denied that his top military advisers wanted troops to remain in Afghanistan”. Here’s the transcript (my emphasis):

    STEPHANOPOULOS: But your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.
    BIDEN: No, they didn’t. It was split. Tha– that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.
    [snip]
    STEPHANOPOULOS: So no one told — your military advisors did not tell you, “No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that”?
    BIDEN: No. No one said that to me that I can recall.

    In other words the president conceded that some of his advisers wanted troops left in the country – the advice “was split” – but nobody advised him that the situation was stable and could continue indefinitely. And yesterday’s testimony confirmed that in spades, with all the generals agreeing that staying after 31 August would have meant war with the Taliban and a rapid increase in American forces.

    The media decided in mid-August that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster, a catastrophe, the final sign that this was Jimmy Carter’s second term. Its subsequent coverage has been disgracefully slanted to support this narrative.

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  41. john430 says:

    So, either Biden is lying here or his memory is failing him at a level that should cause grave concern about his ability to carry out the duties of his office. Neither of those prospects is comforting.

    Oh, c’mon! You must have known about his senility going in. Either that, or you were asleep at the wheel.

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