The top U.S. general, Mark Milley, said Wednesday there was no intelligence that indicated the Afghan army would collapse in just a matter of days.
“There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a press conference with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.
His claim contradicts reports that military leaders had intelligence that indicated the Afghan government could fall quickly once U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country. The Taliban extremist group captured Kabul and the presidential palace on Sunday after a blistering offensive that saw them capture a number of provincial capitals without firing even a shot in some cases.
Milley’s remark came in response to a question that President Joe Biden may have ignored those warnings to press ahead with the withdrawal.
“I have previously said from this podium and in sworn testimony before Congress, that the intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible: one of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan Security Forces and the government. Another was a civil war, and a third was a negotiated settlement,” Milley added. “However, the timeframe of a rapid collapse, that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks, months, and even years following our departure.”
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, about 4,500 U.S. troops are currently stationed at the Kabul airport to assist an evacuation of Americans, Afghan interpreters and workers, and others, according to Milley.
The general said that any American who is trying to get out of Afghanistan will have the opportunity to do so, although neither he nor Austin said that U.S. troops would be deployed elsewhere to try and find Americans who are trapped behind Taliban lines.
At one point, Austin told reporters that Taliban members are currently “checking the credentials” of people trying to enter the airport and will “allow them to pass.” The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are currently designated as global terrorist organizations by several federal agencies and have long been accused of human rights abuses.
But Austin’s comments came as a top State Department official, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, said during a Wednesday news conference that the Taliban is violating its agreement with the United States to allow people to enter the Kabul airport.
“We have seen reports that the Taliban, contrary to their public statements and their commitments to our government, are blocking Afghans who wish to leave the country from reaching the airport,” Sherman said.
There were also photos and video footage posted online suggesting Taliban members were attacking people trying to enter the airport on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Separately, the Taliban on Tuesday issued an ominous warning to Sky News that U.S. forces must be gone from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021.