Chris Wallace appeared on Fox News Wednesday afternoon and discussed the Afghanistan debacle with host Martha MacCallum. During the conversation, Wallace told MacCallum that he has heard from knowledgeable sources that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, strongly counseled Joe Biden against abandoning Bagram Air Base.
Wallace said Milley told Biden in April 2021 that the military should keep a force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan at Bagram to assist the Afghan military. Biden was at that point considering whether to stick to the conditions-based agreement President Donald Trump had negotiated with the Taliban and the Afghan government or do something else. That agreement set a May 1 withdrawal but was predicated on whether the Taliban and the Afghan government met certain conditions. The Taliban was advancing in several provinces at the time. The decision had not yet been made to abandon Bagram, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan. Biden had set about undoing all of Trump’s policies, making his recent claim that Trump’s withdrawal plan bound his own actions implausible. The choice was Biden’s to make: stick to May 1, adopt a new deadline, or adopt a new path entirely.
Biden, according to Wallace, overruled Gen. Milley and ordered the military to draw down to just 600-700 troops ahead of the full withdrawal, which Biden pegged to September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. Biden set that date with the evident intent of getting a photo-up for ending the war. It was not based on the country’s known fighting season or any other military conditions. Given the condition of Afghanistan even then, with the Taliban in control of much of it, using Sept. 11 seemed unwise and likely to backfire.
This raises a question about Milley. If it’s true that he advised Biden in April to keep a floor of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan to hold and use Bagram, and then was overruled, why did he testify to Congress in July that he believed he did not need Bagram Air Base at all?
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked Gen. Milley whether it was possible to keep Bagram Air Base during congressional testimony on June 23. His question and Milley’s answer come at the 1:10:30 mark.
Milley replied: “Can I make a comment? So, a couple of quick comments here. On Bagram, it’s not necessary tactically, operationally, for what we’re gonna try to do here with Afghanistan. Consolidate on Kabul, with, in support of their government.”
If Gen. Milley had counseled Biden not to abandon Bagram in April, then he must have believed that keeping the base was necessary.
Within a few days, as Milley was aware on June 23, the U.S. would abandon Bagram and cut off intelligence support and aircraft maintenance to the Afghan military. That happened on July 5. Surely Milley, a four-star general, was aware of the devastating impact this would have on the Afghan military. Milley would have known of and approved the plan by June 23, unless the Pentagon was being forced into an even more chaotic handling of Afghanistan than we have been led to believe. If that’s the case, Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should speak up.
After telling Congress that the Pentagon did not need Bagram in his June 23 testimony, Milley discussed the Taliban’s advances, downplaying the danger it posed. They were taking territory across Afghanistan with little to no effective resistance. Milley sought to minimize the Taliban’s control on June 23, claiming that about 81 district centers were under their control out of 419 district centers throughout the country, and “There’s no provincial capital that is underneath the Taliban control, and there’s 34 of those.”
Why did Milley downplay the Taliban threat?
The conversation(s) with Biden happened in April, according to Chris Wallace. Then Biden overrules Milley according to Wallace and orders the military to draw down to 600 to 700 troops, which the military believed was not enough to hold both Bagram and the embassy. But Milley goes along with the decision and approves Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller’s plan to abandon Bagram to keep the embassy secure and its operations ongoing. Even that failed and the military had to evacuate the embassy staff to the Kabul airport before leaving Afghanistan altogether, abandoning about 10% of the Americans there and thousands of Afghan allies to the Taliban — which Biden’s administration seems intent on working with now and may even officially recognize.
Recognition may be the price of leaving Americans behind. Behind the scenes, the Taliban may be using those Americans as bargaining chips, in effect making them hostages. That’s what terrorists do and it could explain why everyone in the Biden administration is refusing to call the Taliban “terrorists” now. Biden has operated from an apparent position of weakness throughout this debacle. No one has even suggested, for instance, bombing Bagram to disable it or destroying any of the billions of dollars worth of functional military hardware left behind. Biden touts over-the-horizon anti-terrorism capabilities, but so far has only used that in two questionable drone strikes in the past few days, while a massive strategic base and a full arsenal have fallen into the Taliban’s hands.
Lying to Congress and the American people is not what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is supposed to do. But if Gen. Milley counseled Biden to keep Bagram and was overruled, and then told Congress that he didn’t need Bagram, he may have lied to Congress on June 23. At best, he was less than candid.
The entire Afghanistan debacle could have been avoided and is deeply unsettling now. The strategic decisions made make no sense. The sequence of events makes no sense. Biden’s defiant, angry attitude makes no sense. He’s behaving as a dictator might, angry that he has to answer any questions while claiming credit for “ending” the war in Afghanistan.
It doesn’t take a general to know that “ending” a war is not the same as “winning” a war, and that a chaotic retreat in which you leave Americans behind brings dishonor, angers our allies, and emboldens our enemies. If Biden is too stubborn or mentally degraded to see this, he should be removed from office. While the deliberations were taking place, if Milley really was overruled in April, then he now owes the American people the truth. At this point, history will regard Gen. Mark Milley as presiding over one of the most disastrous military decisions in American history. Surely Gen. Milley would like to avoid having this decision hung on his record along with the rows and rows of ribbons he wears.