Two decades of blood, sweat, and tears in Afghanistan have yielded a ‘modicum of success,’ top US general says

"Over the last five to seven years at a minimum, we have been in a condition of strategic stalemate"

After nearly two decades of continuous war and thousands of American troops killed and wounded, the United States has achieved a “modicum of success” in Afghanistan, said Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Milley’s underwhelming assessment of progress in Afghanistan came on Tuesday during a virtual discussion with Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy and intelligence expert with the liberal Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C.

While speaking about Afghanistan, Milley said that U.S. troops have successfully prevented terrorist groups from using the country as a staging area to attack the United States again, but his appraisal of the overall military situation was much less encouraging.

“We believe that now after 20 years — two decades — of consistent effort there, we’ve achieved a modicum of success,” Milley said. “I would also argue that over the last, call it five to seven years at a minimum, we have been in a condition of strategic stalemate.”

Milley reiterated that the conflict in Afghanistan needs to be ended with a negotiated settlement and that the U.S. military is drawing down to 2,500 troops in the country by Jan. 15 as part of ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.

“What comes after that – that will be up to a new administration,” Milley said. “We’ll find that out on Jan. 20 and beyond.”

Once the drawdown is complete, U.S. troops will continue to support Afghan troops and police while also targeting terrorist groups, Milley said. Both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State terrorist group have a presence in Afghanistan.

Milley declined to say which of the bases in Afghanistan where U.S. troops operate will remain open and which will close.

“As a general comment: You’re looking at a couple of larger bases with several satellite bases that provide the capability to continue our train, advise, and assist mission and continue our counterterrorism mission,” Milley said.

All U.S. forces could leave Afghanistan by May under an agreement with the Taliban.

Since 2001, more than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed while supporting operations in Afghanistan and nearly 21,000 service members have been wounded, according to the Defense Department.

In December 2019, Task & Purpose asked Milley if the United States had thrown away the lives of troops in Afghanistan following revelations published by the Washington Post that the U.S. government had continued to prosecute the war even though top government officials privately acknowledged the strategy was failing.

“Absolutely not,” Milley replied. “Not in my view – and I’m one who was there and as you said, many, many times.”

“I could not look myself in the mirror,” he continued. “I couldn’t answer myself at 2 or 3 in the morning when my eyes pop open and see the dead roll in front of my eyes. So, no: I don’t think anyone has died in vain, per se.”

Jeff Schogol
Jeff Schogol

is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years. You can email him at schogol@taskandpurpose.com, direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter, or reach him on WhatsApp and Signal at 703-909-6488. Contact the author here.

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