The commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, told Congress that they had recommended to Joe Biden that the military maintain a presence of at least 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Biden said in an August 19 interview with George Stephanopoulos that he couldn’t recall anyone recommending that troops remain in Afghanistan after the August 31 deadline.
The testimony was extraordinary because a serving commander has rarely contradicted anything his commander in chief has said.
General McKenzie also recommended to Donald Trump that a force of 4,500 troops stay in Afghanistan.
In answering questions from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) about his advice, McKenzie said he would not share his “personal recommendation” to the president.
But he went on to say that his “personal view,” which he said shaped his recommendations, was that withdrawing those forces “would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and, eventually, the Afghan government.”
McKenzie also acknowledged that he talked to Biden directly about the recommendation by Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan until July, that the military leave a few thousand troops on the ground, which Miller detailed in closed testimony last week.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if he agreed with the assessment that 2,500 troops should remain in Afghanistan. Milley said yes. Later, Senator Tom Cotton asked the general if he should have resigned when Biden failed to follow his recommendation.
Milley argued that resigning in protest would have been a “political act,” and that the president has no obligation to agree with his military advice. “It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken,” Milley said. “This country doesn’t want generals figuring out what orders we are going to accept and do or not. That’s not our job.”
Milley added that his decision was also informed by the experience of his father, who fought at Iwo Jima.
“[My father] didn’t get a choice to resign,” Milley said. “Those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don’t get a choice to resign,” Milley said, referring to the 13 American service members who died during the evacuation from Kabul in late August when an ISIS-K suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest. “They can’t resign so I’m not going to resign. There’s no way.”
Milley’s “nobility” notwithstanding, the general has correctly taken the political temperature of the situation. Biden will not suffer any consequences for his lies nor will there be any additional political fallout, so why should Milley fall on his sword? Resigning based on principle? Surely you jest. Milley is a creature of Washington, and “principle” is something you trot out when trying to hide something from Congress.
McKenzie’s testimony will make a fascinating footnote to the history of the times and that’s about it.