October 26, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned top Pentagon officials about their assessment of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the threats to Americans if the United States had further delayed its exit. In response to Senator King’s questioning, Lieutenant General James Mingus – Director of Operations for the Joint Staff – agreed with the Senator that staying in Afghanistan past the August 31st deadline likely would have resulted in increased attacks on American troops, and required more troops deployed to defend American personnel.
“I feel like we're in a time warp where history started on January 20th of 2021, when in fact history in this case started on February 29th 2020 when the Doha agreement was signed. I've read it, I don't know, probably ten times. I'm a country lawyer, but it's not conditions-based. It guarantees that we will withdraw from the Afghanistan in a certain number of months and a certain number of days. It even sets the day,” said Senator King. ”The decision to leave Afghanistan was made by the former administration in February of 2020. The question before President Biden was, do you abide by that agreement or do you abrogate it? And we're talking now about the consequences of abiding by it. But let's talk for a minute about the consequences of abrogating. General Mingus, what would have happened had the President said in April of 2021: ‘we've decided not to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, but to maintain our presence there.’ What would what would been what would have been the result of that decision?”
“It is my belief that attacks from the Taliban – the one condition in the Doha agreement that they did generally adhere to – would have resumed,” said General Mingus.
“And in order to response to those attacks, it would have been necessary to augment our presence, would it not?” asked Senator King.
“Potentially. Although the assessment by General McKenzie and General Miller at the time was at 2,500 was sufficient to be able to deal with that,” answered General Mingus. “But time would have only been able to tell based on the veracity and the type of attacks that would have started to occur.”
Continuing his questioning, Senator King pressed General Mingus on the difficulties U.S. citizens and permanent residents in Afghanistan would have faced had we not departed on August 31st.
“Then, on August 31st… was it not the unanimous recommendation of the military that staying beyond August 31st, which would have violated the agreement with the Taliban, would have subjected our troops and the citizens who remained to greater danger than leaving and working with the Taliban to extract the remaining citizens, which in fact has happened?” asked Senator King. “Wasn't that the consensus that the danger to the troops, both from the Taliban who would have been free to attack us at that point under the because of the abrogation of the August 31st agreement, but also the terrorist threat which we saw play itself out at the airport?”
“That is correct, Senator,” General Mingus replied. “The consensus amongst the Joint Chiefs, and the commanders on the ground was that staying past 31st August, attacks would have resumed and the ability to get additional American citizens and legal permanent residents out would have actually gone up higher than had we departed as we did.”
Senator King, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, has been vocal about the need for additional answers on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan – including a Time Magazine column advocating against a rush to judgment and for rapid congressional oversight of the decisions made. Last month, Senator King pressed U.S. military leaders for their assessments preceding the Afghanistan withdrawal initiated in negotiations between the Trump administration and the Taliban, and the advice they provided President Biden regarding the best ways to keep American troops and citizens safe during August evacuations. In response to Senator King’s questioning, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, responded that maintaining a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past the initial August 31st deadline would have required a significant increase in troops and predicted any ensuing effort to clear Kabul of Taliban forces and maintain the status quo would have resulted in “significant amounts” of U.S. military casualties. Also last month, Senator King questioned expert witnesses on the Doha agreement’s role in causing the “beginning of the collapse of the Afghan government,” and argued that a lack of understanding of other cultures is one of the “fundamental errors” of American foreign policy.
Senator King recently joined Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to introduce the Afghanistan War Study Commission Act. The bill would establish a nonpartisan, independent commission to examine every aspect of the war in Afghanistan, including the political and strategic decisions that transformed a focused military mission into vast, nation-building campaign that became the longest war in our nation’s history.