Channel 1 Los Angeles
8/18/2021 Washington D.C.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley brief
What I’d like to do is give you an overall situation update as of today, and what our next steps are. So, currently, the United States military is focused on the specific mission of conducting a non-combatant evacuation operation from Afghanistan.
This is likely to be probably the second-largest NEO conducted by the United States. Our key tasks are to establish and maintain security at the Kabul International Airport. Defend the airport from attack. Evacuate all American citizens from Afghanistan who desire to leave this country. Evacuate any third country national, or allies and partners as designated by the secretary of state. Evacuate personnel with State Department-designated Special Immigrant Visas. And evacuate any other evacuees that the State Department designates.
The president of the United States made a decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan on April 14th. Since that date we conducted a deliberate and responsible drawdown of U.S. forces to less than a thousand with the specific task of securing the U.S. embassy and our diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. Since then, the security situation rapidly degraded. Today, the situation is still very dangerous, very dynamic, and very fluid. And all of us can be proud for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who are executing this mission. They are currently in harm’s way. That needs to be our focus. There will be plenty of time to do AARs, but right now our mission is to secure that airfield, defend that airfield, and evacuate all those who have been faithful to us.
There will be many postmortems on this topic, but right now is not that time. Right now there are troops at risk and we are the United States military and we fully intend to successfully evacuate all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan, all American citizens who want to get out of Afghanistan. They are priority number one. In addition, we intend to evacuate those who have been supporting us for years and we’re not going to leave them behind. And we will get out as many as possible. Our troops in Kabul are taking high risks to accomplish that mission. Every minute these troops are on the ground making difficult decisions with incredible skill, incredible bravery, and incredible valor.
Currently, the security situation at the airport is stable. However, there are threats and we’re closely monitoring those at any moment they could happen. We can identify them. If we identify them we will take immediate military action without hesitation, and according to our rules of engagement. And the Taliban and every other organization in that country knows it. The Taliban are in and around Kabul right now, but they are not interfering with our operations. Through the State Department, the Taliban are facilitating safe passage to the airport for American citizens, that is, U.S. passport holders.
We also have a risk, as you saw the other day, of unarmed innocent civilians massing on the airfield where they became a safety hazard to our airplanes our aircrews, and also to themselves. And we currently have that situation under control inside the airfield. There’s many other risks out there. And the troops are dealing with those every single day in this volatile environment, which can and likely will change rapidly.
Let me make one comment on the intelligence, because I am seeing all over the news it that there were warnings of a rapid collapse. I have previously said from this podium and in sworn testimony before Congress that the intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government. Another was a civil war. And a third was a negotiated settlement.
GEN. MILLEY: However, the timeframe of a rapid collapse, that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days. Central Command submitted a variety of plans that were briefed and approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the President. These plans are coordinated, synchronized, and rehearsed to deal with these various scenarios. One of those contingencies is what we are executing right now. As I said before, there’s plenty of time to do AARs, and key lessons learned and to delve into these questions with great detail. But right now is not that time. Right now, we have to focus on this mission because we have soldiers at risk. And we also have American citizens and Afghans who supported us for 20 years also at risk. This is personal, and we’re going to get them out. And we, in uniform, have a deep commitment to this mission.
Now, let me give you an operational update. The security situation, as I said, is currently secure at this time. And since 12 August, we’ve deployed 12 — or correction, two United States Marine battalions, one battalion from the Minnesota National Guard, all three of those were pre-positioned in theater, CENTCOM AOR, as part of the contingency planning. In addition to that, we alerted, marshaled, and deployed the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters and a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, consisting of three airborne infantry battalions and associated enablers.
And finally, there was an infantry battalion from the 10th Mountain Division, securing the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. In addition, we are operating on the ground with a variety of Special Operations Forces. That in combination with the ground forces, we have some of the best soldiers and Marines the world has ever seen. In total, there are 20 U.S. maneuver companies currently on the ground with about 4500 troops, and the flow continues. The President has authorized, as you all know, up to 6000. On top of them as the United States Navy and Air Force. We have multiple squadrons of F-18s, AV-8s, F-16s, AC-130s, B-52s, and MQ-9s. We have a significant amount of rotary-wing aviation on the ground, including attack and lift helicopters. In addition, we are working with our allies and partners through our British infantry rifle companies, along with British special forces on the ground working with us. There’s also a Turkish security force; there are other international Special Operations Forces. This force is capable of extracting a significant amount of people on U.S. Air Force aircraft. Right now, we’re averaging about 20 sorties of C-17s every 24 hours. We have the capability to significantly increase that throughput as the Department of State makes evacuees available.
As the Secretary said, we’ve already evacuated approximately 5000 people, and we intend to increase it. In addition to the military airflow, has a variety of commercial and charter flights, taking out evacuees, and we have various other countries and NGOs. The military side of the airfield is open, and the civilian side of the airfield is also open. And we intend to keep them both open for military, commercial, and charter flights. One caveat on the civilian side, however, is that the airframes have to come in by visual flight rules only. And a NOTAM has gone out to all the aircrews. The State Department is working to rapidly increase the flow of passengers available to get out on the aircraft, and we are fully supporting them with our military personnel at the entrance gates. In this highly dynamic environment, there’s a number of unexpected challenges that can and likely will continue to occur, and we rely heavily on the talent, skill, and training of our troops. We’ve got great people across all the ranks and services out there right now on this mission. In addition to Afghanistan, which is clearly our main effort, we’re also conducting humanitarian assistance operations in Haiti in the aftermath of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake with a significant loss of life. On the West Coast, we’re fighting wildfires, and we continue to conduct COVID support and other Operations around the world.
As we reflect on these difficult and challenging times, every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, Coast Guardsman was fought or conducted operations in Afghanistan. Almost 800,000 should hold their head high. For more than 20 years, we have prevented an attack on the U.S. homeland. 2448 lost our lives, 20,722 were wounded in action, and many others suffered the unseen wounds of war. To each of them, I want you to know, personally, that your service matter, as the Secretary said, for both he and I, this is personal. And I know it’s personal for each and every one of you.