The Afghanistan evacuation fiasco has been punctuated by the crisis at the single airstrip Kabul airport. The military inexplicably decided to abandon Bagram Air Base while thousands of Americans remained in and near the U.S. embassy in the nearby capital city.
The August 18 press briefing by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin included some questions about why the massive airbase was shuttered before the troop withdrawal was completed.
Milley said that the plan to abandon Bagram was developed in Washington but designed in Afghanistan. He acknowledged that the plan was briefed throughout the chain of command and admitted that some of the abandoned U.S. aircraft have already been flown out of the base by members of the Taliban.
He carefully said that maintaining Bagram would have involved significant American operational forces and continued support from the Afghan security forces. Milley told me those levels would have conflicted with the remaining primary mission of protecting the embassy. He said that mission came from the Biden administration.
Bagram offered much more significant security from the Taliban, which has control of the Kabul airport. The base has two important runways and facilities to house and feed evacuees. The number of troops required to defend Kabul airport during evacuation is roughly double what President Biden ordered removed before Bagram was abandoned.
Milley eventually laid responsibility for leaving Bagram with Gen. Austin “Scottie” Miller, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, following orders from Washington. Interestingly, Miller stepped down from his command post on July 12.
The plan to leave Bagram would have been in place since April and was initiated on July 5, a week before Miller stepped down. The U.S. forces left Bagram in the night after turning off electrical service to the base. The withdrawal occurred without notice to the Afghan commander left in charge of the base.
Gen. Miller was saddled with operating under the same framework the Biden administration has used since its beginning. The White House issues executive orders and military commands without a meaningful understanding of real-world consequences. When things go sideways, there is always Donald Trump or half of the country’s voters to blame.