Afghan army collapse ‘took us all by surprise,’ US defense secretary says
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday that the Afghan army’s sudden collapse caught the Pentagon “by surprise,” as military leaders confronted a contentious Senate hearing about how and why America lost its longest war.
Republican lawmakers accused President Joe Biden of lying about recommendations from his military that some troops should be kept in Afghanistan. Even Biden’s Democrats expressed frustration with a chaotic withdrawal that left U.S. troops dead and American citizens behind.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command also acknowledged being caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban takeover and collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
It was their first public congressional testimony since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) won the war in August.
“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,” Austin, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
McKenzie and Milley testified that they had believed it would have been best to keep a minimum of 2,500 troops in the country. In an August interview Biden denied his commanders had recommended that, saying: “No. No one said that to me that I can recall.”
Milley refused to be drawn on whether Biden had lied when pressed by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan
“I’m not going to categorize a statement of the President of the United States,” Milley said.
He said that the U.S. missed warning signs about the coming failure of “leadership and will” in its Afghan allies that ultimately led to their collapse.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst said Biden’s decision to keep former President Donald Trump’s unconditional withdrawal agreement with the IEA had squandered U.S. sacrifices for what he thought would be “a cheap political victory.”
“The loss of our service members, and abandonment of Americans and Afghan allies last month was an unforced, disgraceful humiliation that didn’t have to happen,” Ernst said.
Senator James Inhofe, the panel’s top Republican, described it as a “horror of the president’s own making.”
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Biden’s military experts had provided “a range of viewpoints” about Afghanistan, and that Biden believed leaving troops there would “mean war with the Taliban (IEA).”
Milley, the top U.S. military officer, noted military warnings since late 2020 that an accelerated, unconditional withdrawal could precipitate the collapse of the Afghan military and government.
“That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout,” Milley said.
Austin, Milley and senators – many of whom oversaw the war effort for years – seemed full of questions about what went wrong, citing failures to appreciate the impact of corruption and damaged morale in the ranks.
“There’s a series of strategic lessons to be learned,” Milley said.
Democrats faulted Republicans for blaming Biden, who has been president since January, for everything that went wrong during the 20 years U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan, including under Trump.
“Anyone who says the last few months were a failure, but everything before that was great, clearly hasn’t been paying attention,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
Austin praised U.S. personnel who helped airlift 124,000 people out of the country.
But Milley acknowledged that while the evacuation effort was a logistical accomplishment, the withdrawal was a “strategic defeat”.
He warned that the IEA has not broken ties with al Qaeda.
A reconstituted al Qaeda in Afghanistan with aspirations to attack the United States was “a very real possibility” – perhaps in as little as a year, he said.
IEA, Iranian officials hold talks after border clash
Following the border clash in Nimroz province on Saturday, officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and Iran have held talks in a bid to reduce tensions.
Two Iranian border guards and one IEA guard were killed after the shooting that happened near a border post in Nimroz.
Tehran and Kabul have said that peace has returned to the area and both sides have pledged to avoid such incidents.
IEA has emphasized that Afghanistan does not want war with any of its neighbors and wants to have friendly relations with Iran.
“The Islamic Emirate believes in talks regarding any issue that happens. So this is a very good option. We want that all the issues that exist or the concerns that we have are addressed through talks,” said Bilal Karimi, IEA’s deputy spokesman.
Iran’s interior minister also downplayed the clash and said that the border gate of the Silk Bridge has been reopened and economic exchanges between the two countries have resumed.
“There was a brief conflict and it was resolved. Negotiations were also held with the Taliban (IEA). Now we have no problem. The border is open and peaceful,” Ahmad Wahidi, Iran’s Minister of Interior, said.
Iran’s military officials also said that such incidents should be prevented.
“The meeting took place. Now we have come to see what the parties should do so that this kind of unfortunate incident does not happen,” Qassem Rezaei, deputy commander of Iran’s national police, said.
The clash happened amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.
Iran has accused the IEA of violating a 1973 treaty by restricting the flow of water from the Helmand river to Iran, an accusation denied by the IEA.
Earlier this month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the IEA over disregarding Iran’s water rights under the treaty. The IEA rejected Raisi’s perceived threat.
An Iranian cleric criticized Raisi’s remarks.
“Your diplomatic language was not correct. You suggested (to IEA) to take your words seriously and not complain later. Is this a proper statement? What answer did you get? You embarrassed this nation,” Abdulrahman Omarzahi, a religious scholar in Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran, said.
Afghanistan weather bureau issues heavy rain and flood warning
The Afghanistan Department of Meteorology issued a warning Monday on the possibility of heavy rain and floods in 19 provinces over the next two days.
In a warning on their website, they said heavy rains and floods could be expected on Monday and Tuesday in Badakhshan, Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman, Baghlan, Nangarhar, Kabul, Logar, Paktia, Khost, Paktika, Zabul, Ghazni, Maidan Wardak, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Parwan, Panjshir and Kapisa province.
According to the department, the amount of rainfall is predicted to be between 10 and 30 mm.
Last week, the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) reported that over the past month, at least 42 people died and 45 were injured in 13 provinces due to natural disasters.
Shafiullah Rahimi, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a video that during this period, 341 houses were completely or partially destroyed, 19,573 acres of agricultural land were damaged, and 1,354 livestock were lost in these provinces, mostly in flash floods.
According to Rahimi, these incidents took place in the provinces of Kapisa, Maidan Wardak, Takhar, Badakhshan, Ghor, Kandahar, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Paktia, Khost, Daikundi and Nangarhar.
In addition to this, recent floods caused huge financial losses to residents.
The press office of the governor of Ghor has said that a joint delegation from various government departments visited Taywara and Pasaband districts of the province, to assess the flood damage.
“Five thousand, eight hundred and ninety-five acres of agricultural land, 105 drinking water wells, and water springs were destroyed in two districts, 74 shops were partially destroyed and some were completely destroyed,” the statement said.
In addition, 32 houses were partially destroyed, along with 201 small water dams, fourteen culvert bases and 559 small water reservoirs and canals.
Ghor’s press office said the team had shared the results of its investigations with the local administration, but no help has yet been received for the flood victims.
IEA’s Prime Minister congratulates Erdogan on his victory
Prime Minister of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, has extended his heartfelt congratulations to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his re-election.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, won an election runoff Sunday after the strongest challenge to his 20-year rule.
The IEA Prime Minister expressed his sincere hope for increased strength, stability, and dedication to religious service in Turkey under President Erdogan’s leadership.
Akhund also noted the bond of brotherhood and friendship between the people of Afghanistan and Turkey and conveyed his aspirations for continued cooperation and mutual support between the two nations in various fields.
He also said Erdogan’s successful re-election will further strengthen diplomatic ties and shared values between the two countries.
Official results showed Erdogan’s challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
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