Warning from top US general
Washington – Top United States General Mark Milley has warned al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan could threaten the US in as little as 12 months.
The Taliban had not broken ties with the group responsible for 9/11 and themselves remained a terror organisation, Gen Milley said.
He and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are being questioned in Congress about last month’s pullout from Afghanistan.
The government collapsed as the Taliban rapidly advanced through the country.
Senator and committee leader Jack Reed said lawmakers wanted to understand whether the US “missed indicators” of the government’s collapse.
The US has said it will now move towards counter-terrorism missions.
The hearing, held by the Senate armed services committee, comes weeks after a chaotic withdrawal at Kabul airport as foreign powers sought to get their citizens home and thousands of desperate Afghans begged for rescue.
A suicide attack killed 182 people during the withdrawal operation. Thirteen US service personnel and at least 169 Afghans were killed by the airport gate on 26 August.
Tuesday’s hearing began with opening testimony from Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, followed by General Milley.
General Milley said it would now be harder to protect Americans from terrorist attacks from Afghanistan.
“The Taliban was and remains a terrorist organisation and still has not broken ties with al-Qaeda,” he said.
“A reconstituted al-Qaeda or ISIS [Islamic State group] with aspirations to attack the US is a very real possibility, and those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12-36 months.”
Milley said he made an assessment in late 2020 that an accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could precipitate the government’s collapse.
But both he and Austin testified that the speed of the collapse caught the US military off-guard.
“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” Austin said.
“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise.
Another general, Kenneth McKenzie, who as head of US Central Command oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan, said under questioning he recommended keeping a small force of 2 500 troops in Afghanistan.
This appears to contradict President Joe Biden’s assertion to an ABC journalist that he did not recall anyone giving him such advice. (BBC)