Special Forces were the first to deploy in Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago. They will be the last troops to leave the country, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said during a visit in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Just before Christmas, Miller made a surprise trip to Camp Morehead outside of Kabul where Special Forces train allied Afghan Special Forces. 

“I went there on purpose because I’m going to get the real deal from these guys. And their smart-ass comments and their insights led me to the conclusion we’re in a good place,” Miller said to Stars and Stripes. 

Miller was among the first Special Forces troops with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) on the ground in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Therefore, the troops still on the ground know that their acting Secretary of Defense has built-in operational experience in the same realm that they are working in. 

Miller still shoots from the hip. He makes no bones about his feelings over the mistakes the United States made in Afghanistan by switching from a Special Operations war to one involving the “big Army” in a nation-building role

“I thought special operations and irregular warfare capability should have stayed in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the decision was made to do that. It should have been big Army, big Air Force… and I think we probably would have had a little different outcome in Afghanistan if we would have done — maintained what we were doing then and are doing now,” Miller said.

Miller said that he believes that the troops did the best that they could. But he added that there were cautionary tales about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that should be learned by the Pentagon. Nevertheless, in true Special Forces fashion, he remarked, “I don’t know whether the military will learn [the tales] or not.” 

The secretary also met with General Scott Miller (no relation). They talked about the difficult job that Special Operations troops face as the U.S. is scheduled to completely withdraw from the country by May of 2021. The withdrawal is part of the “peace treaty” deal that the United States signed with the Taliban.

The last remaining U.S. troops are expected to be Special Operations troops who will continue to battle al-Qaeda and work with the Afghan Special Forces. 

Nevertheless, the deal rests on the Taliban meeting certain conditions.

These include the removal of al-Qaeda’s bases in the country and a reduction in violence that will lead to a ceasefire and peace talks with the Afghan government. None of those conditions have been met yet. Taliban attacks on the Afghan military and government installations continue. Further, rather than decreasing in frequency, they have increased as the U.S. is reducing its presence. Additionally, no signs of the Taliban cutting ties with al-Qaeda inside Afghanistan are evident. 

Miller had a luncheon at the national airport. He reiterated the importance of the work being done by both U.S. troops and civilians. He thanked them for serving American interests while being away from their families at Christmas. The secretary later met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani; the pair discussed the security situation. 

While the pair were meeting, a vehicle-borne IED exploded in Kabul killing five people, including four doctors, according to Al Jazeera. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. 

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