In a blunt assessment of the war, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last fall that the result was years in the making. “Outcomes in a war like this, an outcome that is a strategic failure — the enemy is in charge in Kabul, there’s no way else to describe that — that is a cumulative effect of 20 years,” Milley said, adding that lessons need to be learned, including whether the U.S. military made the Afghans overly dependent on American technology in a mistaken effort to make the Afghan army look like the American army.
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Indeed, in the end, the new report said that the Afghans were still heavily dependent on U.S. air support for strikes and emergency evacuations, and also on U.S. contractors to maintain and repair aircraft and other systems.
But all agree that the Doha agreement was a linchpin in the collapse.“The signing of the Doha agreement had a really pernicious effect on the government of Afghanistan and on its military — psychological more than anything else, but we set a date-certain for when we were going to leave and when they could expect all assistance to end,” Gen. Frank McKenzie told Congress last year.
McKenzie, who was then the top U.S. general in the Middle East and has since retired, argued to keep 2,500 U.S. troops there, as did Milley.
The Doha agreement, said the SIGAR report, led the Afghan population and its military to feel abandoned. And the Trump administration’s decision to limit U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban stopped any progress the Afghans were making, and left them unable and eventually unwilling to hold territory, it said.
According to the report, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the U.S. built the Afghan army to rely on contractor support. “Without it, it can’t function. Game over,” the commander told SIGAR. “When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up.”
More broadly, the SIGAR report said that both the U.S. and Afghan governments “lacked the political will to dedicate the time and resources necessary to reconstruct an entire security sector in a war-torn and impoverished country.”
Neither side, it said, “appeared to have the political commitment to doing what it would take to address the challenges.” As a result, it said, the Afghan military couldn’t operate independently and never really became a cohesive force.
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