(WASHINGTON) — Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a new interview that he has “lots of regrets” about how the United States’ 20-year conflict in Afghanistan ended, telling ABC News’ Martha Raddatz that “in the broader sense, the war was lost.”
August marked the two-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, when the military and State Department worked to evacuate some 124,000 embassy personnel, American citizens and at-risk Afghans following the Taliban’s takeover of the country at the end of America’s longest war.
In an interview for ABC’s “This Week” that will air Sunday, Milley, who is retiring at the end of September, praised the courage of those involved while acknowledging the chaos that unfolded as the Afghan government collapsed before a planned power-sharing agreement with the Taliban could take effect after the U.S. left.
Raddatz asked Milley if he shared the feelings of Gen. Frank McKenzie, the former head of U.S Central Command, who said in a recent interview that he “particularly” regrets not evacuating embassy staff, American citizens and at-risk Afghans earlier.
“Of course, I mean, we lost, obviously, the 13 at Abbey Gate on top of the 2,400 that were killed from 9/11 on in Afghanistan,” Milley told Raddatz in a clip from his interview, referring to an attack at the Kabul airport in which 13 U.S. service members were killed along with scores of Afghans.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted it. That didn’t end the way any of us wanted it,” Milley said. “Look, at — when the enemy is occupying your capital … that’s a strategic setback, strategic failure. That’s what I testified to in public. And there’s no way you can describe that as a strategic success.”
However, Milley also pointed to successes during the withdrawal, calling the evacuation “an amazing logistical feat.”
“It exceeds that which came out of Vietnam during Operation Whirlwind,” he said. “And those people are free today because of the courage and the bravery of all of those that were on the ground at the airport.”
Nonetheless, he said, “In the broader sense, the war was lost. We were fighting the Taliban and their allies for 20-plus years. And they prevailed in that capital for a lot of reasons that we don’t have time to go over today. But, sure, lots of regrets by a lot of us from, from 9/11 on.”
Other administration officials have challenged the view that the withdrawal was in disarray or mishandled. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said in April: “For all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it, not from my perch.” And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress in March that he had “no regrets.”
“Wars aren’t lost in the last 10 days or 10 months. Typically, they’re the cumulative effect of lots of turns and twists over many, many years,” Milley told Raddatz. “And this war, when the final history is written, will prove to be the same. Lots of lessons learned. Lots of lefts when you should have gone right. And that’ll all come out in due time. But lots of regrets, absolutely, 100%. Every single soldier I lost is a regret.”
Milley said he had a message for those who fought in Afghanistan.
“I want everyone who ever wore the uniform over there to hold their head high because they did what their nation asked,” he said. “And we protected the United States for 20 consecutive years from attack from Afghanistan, and we gave the Afghan people hope for a better life.”
Raddatz circled back to McKenzie’s comments that it was a mistake not to evacuate more quickly.
“Do you agree with that?” she asked.
“Yeah, I agree with that,” Milley answered.
“So that was a mistake,” Raddatz pressed.
He said, “I think as you look back on it, I think that some decisions with respect to moving the embassy and Department of State could have been made a little earlier.”
ABC News’ Matt Seyler contributed to this report.
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