The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told senators on Sunday that he will move up the assessment of how soon terror groups like al-Qaeda could reform in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s swift takeover of the war-torn nation, according to a report.
During a briefing for a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Gen. Mark Milley was asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) if he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would revise an assessment to Congress in June that there is a “medium” risk of terrorist organizations reconstituting in Afghanistan in less than two years.
”Yes,” Milley replied, adding that he would be happy to brief the senators further in a classified setting, Axios reported, citing three sources on the phone call.
The US and its allies launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 because the Taliban provided al-Qaeda support and safe harbor while the terror group planned the 9/11 attacks.
The briefing by Milley, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken came amid rapid developments in Afghanistan.
The US military used helicopters to ferry diplomats and staffers from the US Embassy in Kabul after the Taliban entered the capital city on Sunday, catching the Biden administration flat-footed with their dizzying advance.
Shortly after the insurgent group entered the city, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
As the trio of administration officials briefed them, many of the senators were getting real-time updates of the deteriorating situation on their cell phones, the report said.
In a briefing for House members, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy compared the US’s evacuation of the embassy in Kabul to Saigon in 1975 and blasted Ghani for running.
At the briefings, lawmakers pressed the administration on efforts to evacuate the thousands of Afghans who worked with the US military during the 20-year war to protect them from reprisals by the Taliban.
Politico reported that one source said it’s unlikely that the more than 20,000 Afghans who want to flee can do so by the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline because the Taliban controls so much territory.
The person pointed out that many of them aren’t in Kabul, adding that “if you’re not in Kabul now, how do you get to Kabul?”
“Two takeaways for me,” the source said. “We’re going to leave tens of thousands of people behind … and the timeline in terms of threats has accelerated.”
Blinken noted that the administration’s hands were tied to pull out troops because of the May 1 timetable the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban — a deadline President Biden extended to Aug. 31.
Austin said the Pentagon has expected a “number of potential outcomes,” but the “lack of resistance that the Taliban faced from Afghan forces has been extremely disconcerting,” Politico reported.
“They had all the advantages, they had 20 years of training by our coalition forces, a modern air force, good equipment and weapons,” Austin said on the call.
“But you can’t buy will and you can’t purchase leadership. And that’s really what was missing in this situation.”
Biden, speaking to reporters in July at the White House to announce the Aug. 31 deadline, dismissed the idea that it is “inevitable” that the Taliban would overrun the country once US forces depart.
“Because you — the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable,” he said.
Reporters also grilled the president on the intelligence community’s assessment that the Afghan government would collapse without the support of the US military.
“That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion, Biden said.
“The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is: Will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it? It’s not a question of whether they have the capacity. They have the capacity. They have the forces. They have the equipment. The question is: Will they do it?” he continued.
The president said the US would continue to back the government during the drawdown, “but there’s not a conclusion that, in fact, they cannot defeat the Taliban.”
At the time, he also rejected any comparisons between the Afghanistan withdrawal and the US pullout of Vietnam.
“The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy. It is not at all comparable,” he said.