'A mistake': Top general's assessment undercuts Biden excuses for bungled Afghan withdrawal

A year later, administration's handling of first major foreign policy crisis echoes across the globe, with consequences.

Updated: August 21, 2022 - 11:59pm

Desperate Afghans falling to their deaths after clinging to a jetliner's wheels. Thirteen Marines slaughtered at an airport gate. The Taliban jubilantly seizing control of the country they once were rousted from. Thousands of American-friendly civilians scrambling to hide or flee.

A year later, the images of the bungled U.S. withdrawal from 20 years of war in Afghanistan remain fresh in most Americans' minds, the globe is less stable amidst declining respect for the U.S., and the Biden administration's shifting explanations for the tragedy have been eviscerated by the simple assessment of the Central Command's top general, who pleaded unsuccessfully with President Joe Biden to keep a small contingent of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

"It was a mistake," Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told senators a few short months ago in blunt testimony still sinking into the minds of Washington policymakers.

The Biden administration has doubled down on the withdrawal despite widespread criticism across the globe. While many blame an emboldened Russia and its invasion of Ukraine and a more aggressive China on the way American exited Afghanistan, Joe Biden's team has no apologies for the way it happened.

The president "refused to send another generation of Americans to fight a war that should have ended long ago," the White House said in a document released last week pushing back on the criticisms.

"Bringing our troops home strengthened our national security by better positioning us to confront the challenges of the future and put the United States in a stronger place to lead the world," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson wrote in the memo.

Most security experts and Republicans disagree. But those disputes aside, the military's post mortem has obliterated the administration's early talking point that no one forecast the rapid fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.

McKenzie put that claim to rest in a candid assessment about Biden's refusal to accept his commanders' advice ahead of the August 2021 withdrawal.

"In the spring of 2021, it was a mistake to go below the level of 2,500 [troops]," McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If in fact, we did so, we expected the government of Afghanistan to collapse. That reflected my opinion, also the opinion of General Miller, we had an opportunity to freely express that opinion."

McKenzie added: "I'm confident I was heard. And that is really all a military commander can ever hope to have the opportunity to do. Those decisions to stay or go and what force level you're going to put in Afghanistan are not inherently military decisions. Those are decisions made at the highest level of the United States."

Watson made clear the decision was made by Biden, ultimately.

Now, a year later, there are sweeping consequences for the way the United States exited, multiple experts tell Just the News.

First of all, terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIS have reconstituted themselves on Afghan soil after two decades of being rousted from safe harbor there, according to U.S. intelligence.

Former National Security Adviser and U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the fact that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri felt comfortable enough to appear on a balcony in Kabul before he was killed by a drone signals terrorists have found safe haven again.

"He was sunning himself out on this balcony almost every day," Bolton said. "He had the run of the country. And if he does, how many other al Qaeda, ISIS K, other foreign terrorists are there in Afghanistan who can threaten the United States?

"This is a warning to us that the terrorist threat ... is back in Afghanistan, and we should be worried about it."

Security experts also believe America's adversaries — Russia, China and Iran especially — have been emboldened by the Afghan withdrawl, viewing it as proof of a weak, uncertain United States security policy.

"China saw us when we withdrew from Afghanistan," said Walid Phares, a security adviser to multiple presidents. "Russia did. Iran did. That was the ultimate point of change between the United States and its foes in the region. Then they saw how we behaved regarding Ukraine ... So China now believes that if there is a window for achieving the goal — which is Taiwan — it doesn't have to be necessarily a direct invasion."

Remarkably, scores of Americans and thousands of U.S.-friendly Afghans have been unable to flee in the face of haphazard U.S. evacuation efforts.

"Let's be clear, there's still Americans that are carrying a blue passport that are behind enemy lines that we need to get out," said former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.

Miller said the Biden administration's rescue efforts were "a whole bunch of talk and not a bunch of action" and thousands of Afghans who aided the U.S. military are still trapped by the Taliban.

Finally, women and children in Afghanistan are far worse off since the Taliban took over, according to U.N. Undersecretary Sima Bahous.

"In the year that has passed since the Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan, we have seen daily and continuous deterioration in the situation of Afghan women and girls," Bahous said. "This has spanned every aspect of their human rights, from living standards to social and political status. It has been a year of increasing disrespect for their right to live free and equal lives, denying them opportunity to livelihoods, access to health care and education, and escape from situations of violence."