Top general acknowledges Taliban offered to let the US handle Kabul security
U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie on Wednesday acknowledged that the Taliban offered to let the U.S. military take over security for Kabul until it officially departed the country on Aug. 31.
McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing Wednesday that Taliban leaders made the offer during a conversation in Doha the day Afghanistan fell to the extremist group.
The general said he met the head of the Taliban’s political wing, Abdul Ghani Baradar, on Aug. 15 in Doha “to pass a message to him that we were withdrawing and if they attempted to disrupt that withdrawal we would punish them severely for that.”
During the meeting, the Taliban offered to let the U.S. military secure Kabul, but McKenzie said agreeing to such an offer was not in his instructions and “we did not have the resources to undertake that mission.”
Asked whether the Taliban’s offer was conveyed to President Biden, McKenzie said he did not know, but added that U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was present for the conversation.
The Washington Post first reported in late August that McKenzie, along with other senior U.S. officials, met in Doha with Baradar the day Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
“We have two options to deal with it: You [the U.S. military] take responsibility for securing Kabul or you have to allow us to do it,” Baradar reportedly told McKenzie.
McKenzie told Baradar the U.S. mission was only to evacuate U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans and the military needed the airport to do that.
The two sides agreed the United States could have the airport until Aug. 31.
McKenzie’s revelation is likely to be scrutinized as the Biden administration has been slammed for its handling of the U.S. military’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and the thousands of vulnerable Afghans left behind in the chaos.
On Wednesday McKenzie explained he did not consider the discussion with the Taliban “to be a formal offer” and it was not the reason he was in Doha. That’s why, he said, he did not pursue it, but, he added, the offer was conveyed to his chain of command.
Later in the hearing, McKenzie said he went to Doha to ask the Taliban to keep a distance of 30 kilometers from Kabul as “the best way to do deconfliction,” as districts in the country rapidly fell to the group.
But by the day of the meeting, the Taliban were already in downtown Kabul, so “we had to proceed from the new reality,” he said.