National Security & Defense

Milley and Austin Should Resign

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley hold a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., August 18, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Is anyone in the U.S. government accountable anymore?

As the debacle in Afghanistan continues to unspool, there is no serious talk of anyone getting fired or resigning for his responsibility in a fiasco that has humiliated the United States and left our countrymen and Afghan allies stranded behind enemy lines.

All of this is ultimately Joe Biden’s responsibility, even though, as he demonstrated again in his callous and confused interview with George Stephanopoulos, he refuses to admit error. But we elect presidents for four-year terms.

If it is Biden who made the call to pull out and to bless a shockingly inept withdrawal, that doesn’t absolve the Pentagon of responsibility for its role in planning and executing an operation worthy of Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated Desert One, only on a far larger scale.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin should resign immediately.

Press reports say that they warned Biden against a total withdrawal. If true, good for them. But so did everyone who knows something about Afghanistan and isn’t committed to liquidating “forever wars” come what may. Once Biden made the call, it was their job to ensure it didn’t devolve into an emergency with our troops in dangerously constrained circumstances and forced to wait for Americans and Afghans to make their way to them through Taliban checkpoints.

They failed — miserably. The idea that we had to send back thousands of troops to Afghanistan after pulling them out in order to mount a desperate rearguard evacuation should be indictment enough. We had to operate from the Kabul airport because we had given up Bagram Airbase, bugging out in the middle of the night at the beginning of July. We had so many U.S. citizens still in the country because we had bizarrely withdrawn military forces first.

In attempting to explain the inexplicable, General Milley has said they had no idea that the Afghan government would collapse so quickly. So no one at the Pentagon takes into account worst-case scenarios? Besides, if the leaks from intelligence agencies are to be believed, it is not true that Milley and others didn’t know. Is it really true that no one in the Pentagon has access to the same information as Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn who run the Long War Journal at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and have made it clear for months how likely a rapid collapse was? Ignorance is no excuse.

Milley also says, given the artificial imperative from the top to get down to 700 troops, he had to choose whether to defend Bagram or defend the U.S. embassy. If so, once these were his options, with the possibility that being forced to make such a choice would put the lives of Americans at risk if something went wrong, he should have quit then.

Events in Afghanistan are devastating, and there’s no reversing them. We aren’t going to be able to make up for the losses to our security or for the great price that will be paid by our allies. But there is something to be done about the corrosive sense that when our government makes massive, avoidable errors, no one is ever held to account. It is within the power of Milley and Austin, who have embarrassingly emphasized their powerlessness the last few days, to do their part to restore some semblance of accountability by doing the right thing and resigning forthwith.

PHOTOS: The Fall of Afghanistan

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