Former U.S. Generals Discuss Chaotic Afghanistan Withdrawal

Matthew Dellinger
Matthew Dellinger
Matthew Dellinger holds a Political Science and History BS and is working towards a Masters in Public Administration. Before his time at Atlas he joined GoodPolitical to serve as a writer and contributor while also expanding his knowledge on global events. Matthew is proud to be a part of a news organization that believes in delivering truthful, unfiltered, and unbiased news to people around the world.

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What Happened:

Mark Milley, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and Kenneth McKenzie, former leader of U.S. Central Command, testified about the Afghanistan withdrawal for the first time since retirement. The withdrawal was front page news throughout the process, with pictures of mothers handing their children to American soldiers as throngs of people stormed an airport tarmac to escape the Taliban.

During the withdrawal, American soldiers had the task of protecting their position, the civilians, and themselves in an incredibly civilian-dense environment. Scenes of chaos unfolding at checkpoints were constantly being aired. Civilians clung to American transport planes that were taking off from the runway, eventually leading to their deaths.

The withdrawal left the American public and American lawmakers furious and demanding answers. For the first time since the withdrawal, Mr. Milley and Mr. McKenzie provide some insight into what happened.

The History:

In order to understand the chaos during the withdrawal and the ramifications of its completion, it is important to have a timeline.

October 7, 2001: America enters Afghanistan, marking the beginning of the war on terror. The invasion began after President George W. Bush demanded that the mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, be extradited to the United States. This invasion would be called “Operation Enduring Freedom.”.

November 2001: The U.N. holds a conference that determines the new Afghani government. The Taliban were not invited to participate, although they were the current government at the time.

April 17, 2002: President George W. Bush made a speech at the Virginia Military Institute that began discussions of an “Afghan reconstruction” with similar components of the Marshall Plan.

June 2002: A transitional government is created with its leader selected from the Interim Administration of Afghanistan.

November 2002: A civil affairs framework was created by the U.S. military to begin rebuilding Afghan society. The U.N. assists in expanding the authority of the new Afghan government.

May 1, 2003: “Major combat” is declared to be over by U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

January 2004: A new constitution is created for Afghanistan, which establishes a strong presidential office designed to unite the many ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Seen as a “first step” in the right direction.

May 23, 2005: U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan’s President Karzai issue a statement declaring the U.S. and Afghanistan as partners, which includes giving the U.S. military access to Afghan military facilities to pursue the war on terror.

July 2006: Terror attacks begin to increase rapidly, as the end of July will hold a total of 139 attacks by the end of the month. Some claim this is the first sign of a failing central government in Afghanistan.

February 2009: President Barack Obama announces plans to send 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to combat terrorists. He also redefines war goals to prevent them from being “too broad.”.

November 2009: President Karzai wins another election, but there are claims of fraud and false integrity during his win.

December, 2009: President Obama announces a large escalation in Afghanistan, adding 30,000 troops to the already standing 68,000. Obama sets July 2011 as the start date for the withdrawal of troops.

November 2010: NATO member countries sign an agreement that hands security back to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. Local security forces began taking over stable provinces in 2011.

May 1, 2011: Osama bin Laden is killed by U.S. forces. This begins the call to draw down troops sooner than President Obama had originally announced.

June 22, 2011: President Obama creates a plan to withdraw 33,000 troops by mid-2012. Obama was beginning to face increased pressure from the American public and lawmakers to end the war.

October 7, 2011: Ten year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. President Obama has labeled 2014 as the withdrawal date for all combat troops, but security experts doubt the Afghan government’s ability to prevent collapse.

March 12, 2012: The Taliban cancels peace talks, and tensions flare with claims of U.S. troops burning Qurans and killing civilians. Afghan President Karzai demands that troops be held in military facilities and withdraw from village outposts. He claims this will quickly accelerate the transition to Afghan governed security.

June 2013: Afghan forces are now in control of their own security. The remaining U.S. forces focus on training and counter-terrorism efforts.

May 2014: President Obama announces the withdrawal of U.S. troops, claiming most U.S. forces will be out by 2016. The plan calls for leaving 9,800 troops to train and help conduct operations with Afghan security forces.

April 13, 2017: Instability is plaguing the country as the Taliban are making a resurgence and the Islamic State is beginning to take hold. Newly elected President Donald Trump gives decision making authority to commanders and includes adding several thousand U.S. troops to the fight. The U.S. also dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State militants in a cave complex in Nangarhar province.

August 21, 2017: President Trump announces he will continue with an open-ended military commitment to prevent Afghanistan from falling. He claims decisions on withdrawal will be determined by conditions on the ground.

January 2018: Major escalations in attacks are occurring across the nation. The Trump administration implements a new Afghanistan plan that focuses on rural peacekeeping and air strikes against opium labs.

September 2019: President Trump cancels peace talks with Afghan President Ghani after a U.S. soldier is killed in a Taliban attack. President Ghani warns that more deaths will follow due to the cancellation.

February 2020: An agreement is signed that creates a roadmap for significant de-escalation and includes guarantees that the country will not be used for terrorist activity. Days after its signing, Taliban fighters carried out attacks on Afghan security forces.

November 17, 2020: U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller announces a significant decrease in the number of troops in Afghanistan by January. The announcement comes days before President Joe Biden will be inaugurated.

April 14, 2021: President Joe Biden announces the U.S. will completely withdraw on September 11, 2021. Claims the remaining troops will be withdrawn, regardless of progress made on peace agreements. Biden announces continued assistance to Afghan security forces.

August 15, 2021: The Afghan government collapses as the Taliban take Kabul. They overran the capital and the presidential palace mere hours after the sitting president fled the country. The Taliban effectively re-seized most of the country.

August 26, 2021: Thirteen U.S. service members and eighteen others are injured during an attack outside the Kabul airport. 170 Afghan civilians were also killed. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

August 30, 2021: The last U.S. forces depart Afghanistan, leaving behind up to 200 Americans and thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. and NATO. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington will make a deal to get them out, promises future action in Afghanistan will focus on diplomacy. Afghanistan officially falls under Taliban rule.

U.S. Hearing:

The withdrawal drew criticism from both parties, as former President Donald Trump blamed the Biden administration for the failures, while the Biden administration blamed Trump for a poor execution plan. Both Mark Milley and Kenneth McKenzie argue that both parties are wrong. They blamed all the administrations, including those before them.

Mr. Milley claimed that the Doha agreement that set the terms of U.S. departure, “pulled the rug out, morale wise,” from the Afghan government and its security forces. He also claimed that the civilian evacuations were “too slow and too late.” He had advised 2,500 troops to be on the ground to prevent the Taliban from taking control.

They both criticized the U.S. State Department for not evacuating U.S. citizens before the military withdrawal took place. They both claim they had no idea how many Americans were in Afghanistan, and they had no idea how many got out.

Family members of fallen service members attended this assessment of the U.S. withdrawal. The retired generals were able to be critical since they no longer serve in the U.S. military.


The withdrawal has been a failure used by Republican’s to target President Biden’s ability to handle international affairs. Most of the hearing followed the typical arguments used by both Republican’s and Democrat’s. However, the one piece of bipartisan news that passed through the room was the expansion of Afghan visas for immigrants and refugees. Veterans of the war and U.S. lawmakers have been fighting to increase the number of visas allowed to be distributed. The announcement is expected to be made during the budget deal that is expected to pass this week.

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have used this event to attack each other ahead of the 2024 election.