Joint Chiefs chair: US has ‘achieved a modicum of success’ in Afghanistan
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday the U.S. military has achieved “a modicum of success” with its nearly 20-year presence in Afghanistan.
“We went to Afghanistan … to ensure that Afghanistan never again became a platform for terrorists to strike against the United States,” Milley said during a virtual Brookings Institute event. “And to a large measure we have been, at least to date, successful in preventing that from happening again.”
But he allowed that in the last five to seven years, the U.S. military has been in a stalemate “where the government of Afghanistan was never going to militarily defeat the Taliban,” and the Taliban, as long as the United States supports the Afghanistan government, “is never going to militarily defeat the regime.”
“We believe that now after 20 years, two decades of consistent effort there, we’ve achieved a modicum of success,” Milley said.
The United States has spent more than $1 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, with more than 2,400 U.S. troops killed and almost 21,000 wounded.
America’s longest war began in October 2001 after the 9/11 terror attacks in an effort to oust al Qaeda militants who had planned the strike from Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban-controlled government that supported them.
President Trump, who has long voiced opposition to what he calls the nation’s “forever wars,” in November ordered the Pentagon to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. The order also included a 500 troop drawdown from Iraq on the same timeline.
The administration moved to withdraw forces from the region after a February conditional peace deal signed with the Taliban that calls for a full U.S. withdrawal by May — but only if the fundamentalist group upholds certain commitments such as denying safe haven to al Qaeda.
But the Taliban has stepped up attacks against Afghan forces since the deal was signed, violence that U.S. officials have repeatedly condemned as threatening the peace process.
Milley, who argued that a negotiated settlement is the only solution to the stalemate, said that the ongoing negotiations in Qatar are in a “very critical stage.”
So far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have agreed to develop an official framework for formal peace negotiations, a process that up until now has stalled due to the ongoing violence in the country, the State Department announced on Wednesday.
“What comes after that, that will be up to a new administration,” Milley said.
President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said he hopes to end the war in Afghanistan through pulling most troops from the country but leaving a residual force to prevent future terror attacks.