The chaotic scenes that were on our 24/7 TV screens during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan are gone.
But that doesn’t mean the story is over.
DOD officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 26, 2021 and praised the actions of the U.S. military in the operation to evacuate non-combatants from Afghanistan and explained how the department is working with others. agencies to resettle the allies in the United States.
Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Army Lt. Gen. James Mingus, Director of Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified. Both men said the military would study the entire US experience in Afghanistan to learn lessons from 20 years of conflict.
Mingus told the Senate panel that a non-combatant evacuation operation, or NEO, is one of the most difficult missions an army can undertake.
“By their very nature, they occur with little notice and are often found in precarious security environments,” he said. “The ministry recognized that a NEO could be the most dangerous course of action and, with the agency, planned for that eventuality.”
The operation was not without problems. Crowds swarmed some of the first planes that landed at Kabul airport. Safety remained an issue throughout the operation.
But the DOD responded quickly to the State Department’s NEO statement by deploying nearly 6,000 troops to Kabul within days. “This NEO element executed the largest humanitarian airlift operation ever undertaken,” Mingus said.
Kahl called the operation “unprecedented” and reaffirmed that no other army in the world could have evacuated more than 120,000 people from a disputed airfield. “We as Americans should be immensely proud,” he said.
Planning for a NEO began immediately after President Joe Biden announced in April of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The speed of the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan surprised planners, Kahl said. Yet careful planning and deployments made the operation possible. In June, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III pre-positioned forces in the region and sent the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group to the Gulf to cover the withdrawal.
“In August, as conditions worsened, additional forces were put on alert,” Kahl said. “Foresight, as well as skill and bravery, enabled our military to carry out this extraordinary mission.”
Even with that, there were Afghans that US personnel were unable to reach before the August 31 deadline.
There were other heartbreaks as well, including a terrorist attack by ISIS-Khorasan that killed 13 servicemen. There were also 10 civilians mistakenly killed by an airstrike in Kabul.
DOD is providing shelter to more than 50,000 Afghans evacuated at eight bases as they complete their treatment procedures. More than 6,000 have already been resettled in the United States. Kahl said about 10,000 US military personnel are contributing to this effort.
“Our military mission in Afghanistan may have ended on August 31, but our military, diplomats and government employees continue to work hard,” Kahl said. “The US government continues to facilitate the departure of US citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as Afghans who have worked for and with us. He noted that to date, 234 US citizens and 144 lawful permanent residents have left Kabul since September 1. Others went out on private charters.
There is currently no US military presence in Afghanistan. “We examine and learn from the past, bearing in mind the uncomfortable truth that despite decades and billions of dollars of US investment, the Afghan military has evaporated in the face of Taliban onslaught,” Kahl said. “In addition, we look to the future, strengthening our ability to engage in counterterrorism operations on the horizon to ensure that no threat emanating from Afghanistan can harm our homeland or our interests, even if we refocus the department on challenges. posed by China, Russia and other competitors and adversaries.
Mingus agreed that the US military will study efforts to strengthen the Afghan security forces. “The ANDSF will be a case study that the department will look at in the years to come,” the general said. “We will analyze their development and eventual disbandment to determine how to chart better paths for our partners in the future. While we cannot and never will instill the will to fight, we can and will take the opportunity to better understand these intangible factors that so significantly affect our mission and our nation’s interests.