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Milley Points Fingers at State Department for Botched Afghanistan Evacuation

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley (left) testifies alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin and Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, before the House Armed Services Committee on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 29, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters)

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley reportedly suggested that the State Department was culpable for the botched evacuation out of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s rapid takeover and the Afghan government’s collapse.

In a confidential meeting, he said State Department officials “waited too long” to facilitate the airlift out of the Kabul airport, two sources directly familiar with the briefing told Axios. 

Milley’s private comments stand in stark contrast to his public testimony before Congress, in which he stated that the timeliness of the State Department’s order to commence evacuation is an “open question that needs further exploration.”

The past two days of hearings with Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, have exposed the differences in opinion that were held by the State Department and the Pentagon surrounding the Afghanistan evacuation. It has also highlighted the reality that the nation’s top military advisors and President Biden were not always on the same page regarding the logistics and conditions of the withdrawal.

For instance on Tuesday, McKenzie testified before the Senate Armed Services committee that he initially recommended President Biden maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, contradicting the president’s assertion that the military unanimously supported total withdrawal.

During a closed session on Tuesday, Milley remarked that the civilian rescue effort should have been initiated earlier, adding that the State Department and Pentagon don’t always reach consensus historically, but that there was a deeper division on the evacuation timetable.

Another anonymous individual in the session, Axios reports, said Milley “wasn’t blaming anybody per se, but was speaking from a purely military perspective. The quicker we moved out non-combatants, the safer they would be.”

When it comes to a civilian airlift, formally called a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO), the State Department and Pentagon share power, with the former authorizing it and the latter implementing it.

The State Department delayed the evacuation date until August 14, a day before the Afghan seat of government fell to the Taliban, because former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani advocated against it, arguing that a premature mission would erode confidence among Afghan forces and precipitate their disintegration.

Austin, however, ordered CENTCOM to start planning for a potential NEO weeks before Biden told the public of the intention for U.S. departure from Afghanistan.

PHOTO GALLERY: Afghanistan Evacuation

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