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Afghanistan withdrawal: US Defense Secretary says US caught off-guard with Afghan army collapse
This week, the top military generals involved in the Afghanistan withdrawal by the US testified before Congress. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US was caught off-guard by the sudden collapse of the Afghan army to the Taliban as the insurgent group took control.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin said that the Pentagon was taken by surprise at the immediate collapse of the Afghan army as the Taliban took control of the country during the evacuation efforts. Austin’s hearing follows that of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who defended the administration’s call for evacuation even as Republicans have called for his resignation. Republicans are also looking to use the hearings to highlight what they see are mistakes made by the Biden administration.
“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 committee. “It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
“Was it perfect? Of course not,” said Austin, referring to the incident where Afghans who were desperate to flee the country in the midst of the evacuation getting killed trying to climb the side of a US military aircraft, and the civilians who were killed in the drone strikes that were targeting ISIS-K, the extremist group that took responsibility for the suicide bombing near Kabul airport. 13 US soldiers were killed from the blast.
Austin also commended the military personnel for being able to evacuate over 140,000 Afghans and Americans in Afghanistan.
With the Taliban in control, the insurgent group is hoping to present its government as acceptable to the international community through presenting a more moderate stance compared to their hardline rule years back. The Taliban recently asked commercial airlines to resume their international flights to Afghanistan as airlines paused flights to the country due to the evacuation efforts.
The Taliban’s foreign affairs ministry spokesperson said in a statement that the suspension of international flights had left Afghans stranded overseas, unable to travel for study or for work. They also assured full cooperation towards the airlines, noting that Kabul airport is now fully operational.