Trump Joint Chiefs pick: Early Afghanistan withdrawal would be ‘strategic mistake’

Aaron Schwartz

President Trump’s pick to be the top uniformed U.S. military official on Thursday said that pulling troops from Afghanistan prematurely would be a “strategic mistake.”

“I think it is slow, it’s painful, it’s hard, I’ve spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan, but I also think it’s necessary,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee about the 18-year-old Afghanistan War.

Asked by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) when the U.S. should say “enough is enough” and withdraw from the ongoing war, Milley replied that the conflict should end “when our interests are met and I think that’ll be met through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.”{mosads}

“I think we’re seeing some progress,” he added.

Milley, who is nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing outgoing chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, said during his confirmation hearing that the continued U.S. presence is needed for successful negotiations with the Taliban.

“I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake,” he said.

He added that the U.S. military should keep a “modest amount of capability” in Iraq and Syria for stability following the defeat of the Islamic State caliphate.

The Trump administration in December wanted to quickly pull large numbers of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle balked at the idea.

Trump backed off the plan to allow more time for negotiations, as government officials are currently involved in talks with the Taliban to broker a peace deal, with the seventh round of negotiations ending earlier this week.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with Taliban officials to form a “roadmap for peace,” which would include a joint call to end civilian casualties and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country pending a Taliban promise to not let Afghanistan be used as a base for terrorism.

Milley also told lawmakers that he will give his best military advice to Trump and would “absolutely not” be intimidated into making “stupid decisions.”

“I’ll give my best military advice, it’ll be candid, it’ll be honest, it will be rigorous and it will be thorough and that’s what I’ll do every single time,” he said.

King replied, “I believe that, but I think it’s very important to emphasize the Oval Office is an intimidating place. The president of the United States is the most powerful leader in the free world, and to be willing to say, Mr. President, you’re wrong about this … if it’s something that he or she doesn’t want to hear, there is no more important responsibility in your career that you will … have had to make that statement.” 

Milley replied that he and other military leaders are “not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions,” and will give the best military advise “regardless of consequences to ourselves.”

Tags Angus King Donald Trump

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