Top general says decision to withdraw from Afghanistan is a mistake
A former top general in the United States Marine Corps ripped President Joe Biden’s disastrous plan to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan – one the ex-military leader said history would view as a mistake. General Frank McKenzie (pictured left), who retired in April of 2022, was the head of US Central Command during the withdrawal, including the suicide bomber attack that killed 13 service personnel at Kabul airport on August 26, 2021.
In an interview Sunday, he said he feels the withdrawal – which drew widespread criticism and which he had previously defended – will be looked at as a terrible mistake from plan to execution. ‘I believe history is going to view the decision to come out of Afghanistan in the way that we did and the manner that we were directed to come out as a fatal flaw,’ he said.
McKenzie said in March 2022 that he would regret the withdrawal for the rest of his life – a decision that allowed the Taliban to quickly seize control of Afghanistan as Americans and refugees fled for safety. ‘I have a lot of regrets about how it ended in Afghanistan. I have a regret with the basic decision, which I think was the wrong decision,’ he told Fox News . ‘And I particularly regret that we did not choose to begin to evacuate our people, our embassy personnel, our American citizens and our at-risk Afghans at the time we made the decision to bring in our combat forces. I think that was a serious mistake, and I think that led to the events of August 2021 directly.’
McKenzie has previously said he was proud of the way that American troops evacuated 124,000 people from Kabul but was and remains forever haunted by the self-murder attack that killed 13 U.S. service personnel and more than 100 Afghans. ‘We were dealing with the possibility of a self-murder vest attack but without specific description of the person,’ McKenzie, who served under Biden and Trump, said of the attack. ‘We were dealing with a possibility of an indirect fire attack, either rockets or mortars, but I do know that there was no intelligence to support the assertion that we knew what the bomber looked like that he was carrying a backpack with three yellow stripes,’ he added.
He was honest when asked about what he may have changed about the withdrawal. ‘You always look back any time you lose people and you wonder if you could have done things differently, and I am haunted by that. I think about it quite a bit. It’s one of the many regrets that I have. I examined everything we did. I think about it particularly in the month of August of every year for the rest of my life.’ Among McKenzie’s successes was the high-profile raid to kill or capture the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019, but he also described how he thinks every day about the troops killed in Kabul. He spoke about it initially when he gave his final press briefing in March of 2018. ‘The collapse of the Afghan government was not the result we desired when we began our withdrawal,’ he said.
‘That said the courage and hard work of several thousand service members under difficult and dangerous conditions, which allow the evacuation of 124,000 U.S. partners and Afghan nationals is something the nation can be very proud of. ‘It came at the terrible costs of 13 U.S. service members and over 100 Afghan civilians killed. And that is a loss that I deeply regret. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. We owe these heroes our gratitude.’ Pictured: one of the thirteen service members Humberto Sanchez.
Thousands of Afghans were trying to flee to safety, and U.S. Marines were checking them one by one when the self-murder explosion happened. The local offshoot of the Islamic State – known as ISIS-K – claimed responsibility. ‘Not a day goes by that I don’t think about August of last year and the loss of our 11 Marines, one soldier and one sailor there,’ said McKenzie. ‘I think about it a lot. You go back and you always try to find ways things that you could have done different.’ But he said the battlefield was a dynamic place. ‘We were not able to stop this attack,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what we could have done that would have presented this particular attack,’ he said.
He has led U.S. troops in the Middle East and southwest Asia for the past three years. And he took over responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan last year, as the U.S. was winding down its presence. He alluded to some of the darkest moments during his final comments to journalists. ‘And there have been days, I’ll tell you, I would rather have my leg taken off below the knee, then come in there and talk to you guys,’ he said when he retired. ‘But it was an important thing to do.’ Pictured: One of the thirteen service members Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee.
He used the occasion to deliver an assessment of the region under his command, and describe the threats to the U.S. ‘Continue to see Iran as the greatest threat to regional security and stability,’ he said. ‘They furnish weapons, support and direction to proxies across the region who engage in acts of terror and undermine local governments, all advancing Iranian interests. Iran’s ballistic missile threat has continued to advance and expand with greater ranges and accuracy. CENTCOM has continued to watch Iran and its proxies as we act as a deterrent to Iranian attacks on U.S. interests.’
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