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Defense Secretary Austin admits in Senate testimony Afghan army collapse ‘took us all by surprise’

  • September 29, 2021

When asked how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan, Austin, Milley and U.S. Central Command’s Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie deferred to the State Department.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers that fewer than 100 U.S. citizens seeking evacuation remain in Afghanistan.

At President Joe Biden‘s direction, the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan ended on Aug. 31 after the evacuation of approximately 125,000 people out of the country. Of that total, about 6,000 were U.S. citizens and their families.

The U.S. began its war in Afghanistan in October 2001, weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11. The Taliban at the time provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda, the group that planned and carried out the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Since then, about 2,500 U.S. service members have died in the conflict, which also claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Afghan troops, police personnel and civilians.

After 20 years of investment, four U.S. presidents and 12 secretaries of Defense, the Taliban are yet again in power.

In the final weeks of a planned exodus of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban carried out a succession of shocking battlefield gains. On Aug. 15, the group captured the presidential palace in Kabul, triggering Western governments to accelerate evacuation efforts of at-risk Afghan nationals, diplomats and civilians.

Following the Taliban takeover, Biden defended his decision that the U.S. would depart the war-torn country.

“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said a day after Afghanistan collapsed to the Taliban.

“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”

Biden ordered the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops to Kabul to help with the colossal humanitarian airlift and secure the perimeter of the airport.

In the final week of the evacuation efforts, terrorists from the group ISIS-K killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans in an attack outside the airport. U.S. forces retaliated and launched strikes in a bid to thwart other attacks.

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