A Failure of Epic Proportions

The testimony of General Milley and General McKenzie in front of the House Armed Services Committee yesterday was tough to watch. The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was undoubtedly a failure of epic proportions, resulting in a national security debacle that will have lasting consequences for years to come; how the withdrawal and the Non-Combatant Evacuation were executed and the poor interagency coordination should have led to the immediate firing of senior leaders on the military and civilian side of the Department of Defense, Department of State, and within the National Security Council Staff. However, instead of being held accountable for their actions, these leaders were allowed to remain in their positions and, in some cases, even promoted, further perpetuating a culture of cover-ups and incompetence.

The testimony yesterday was very different from previous testimony and public statements. Both generals blaming the Department of State was inappropriate. Those of us who know the importance of interagency coordination, Joint Force Operations, and executing Non-Combatant Evacuations (NEO) understand that the success and blame do not fall on the shoulders of one agency. I have participated in five NEOs at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, and I know it takes a team effort. I understand that the planning, coordination, approvals, political considerations, security, and resources necessary to conduct an NEO is a comprehensive undertaking by the interagency, Joint Staff, and the host nation. Two operations were happening in Afghanistan simultaneously: a NEO and a withdrawal. The failure of civilians, general officers, and admirals at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels must be addressed. Blaming one administration over another is political and only prevents the American people from hearing the truth.

We Need Accountability

What we need now is not more finger-pointing but proper accountability and a commitment to transparency. In his testimony, General Milley failed to take responsibility for the failures that led to the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, instead choosing to shift blame onto the State Department. While accepting responsibility for the military side of the operation, General McKenzie also attempted to deflect blame onto others. It is unacceptable for leaders to claim responsibility while simultaneously pointing fingers at their colleagues.

According to assessments by the Heritage Foundation (https://www.heritage.org/military-strength/executive-summary), since this failure in Afghanistan, we have the weakest military since World War II. Our foreign policy has left the world in turmoil, and our national security apparatus is ineffective at best and cannot provide security here at home or abroad. We also have a Congress that cannot fulfill its duties, making it the most ineffective Congress since the Great Depression. This is the fault of the civilians and military leaders that comprise our national security team and their hand-picked successors.

It is time for the truth to come to light and for those responsible for this failure to be held accountable. The American people deserve leaders willing to take responsibility for their actions and make the necessary changes to ensure that such a debacle never happens again. We must demand transparency and accountability from our leaders and hold them to the highest standards of integrity and competence. Only then can we begin to rebuild our national security apparatus and restore the American people’s trust in our government.

Our Mission Was Over in 2002

In several articles and assessments, I suggested that we had completed the military mission in Afghanistan by June 2002. We had a government in place in Kabul, Hamid Karzai had appointed all his provincial governors, and the security situation was satisfactory. If we had let the Afghans do it the Afghan way, the Taliban would not have resurged during our attempt to do nation-building and create an Afghan government, national military, national police force, and other Western-type organizations from 2002 to 2005, making an insurgency that became problematic until 2010.

In 2010, General McCrystal changed the strategy to a bottom-up comprehensive strategy. This is how Village Stability Operations and the Afghan Local Police were created and approved by the Afghan government. With the support of Admiral Olsen, Admiral McCraven, General Petraeus, and General Allen, this program would achieve unprecedented security gains the Afghan way. By 2013, we could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. The Special Joint Operations Task Force assessed with the assistance of RAND analysts that by 2015, security in the rural areas would be under the control of the Afghan government. Knowing all this, we changed the strategy. I articulated this in a meeting with Denis McDonough, Obama’s Chief of Staff, the ISAF Commander (General Dunford), and the IJC Commander (LTG Milley). Despite the evidence and a victory in sight, the strategy was changed. I was told after the meeting that I just committed career suicide.

The Obama administration’s shift in strategy and operational approach in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014 had significant consequences for the outcome of the war. The change from a focus on rural security, as exemplified by the Village Stability Operations (VSO) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) programs, to a downsizing of troops and a top-down counterterrorism approach had a detrimental impact on the progress that had been made in securing rural areas and weakening the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The key to security in Afghanistan is the rural areas. The Taliban knew this, and this is where they focused.