Video: Austin Defends Air Base Closure Amid Afghanistan Withdrawal

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Austin Defends Air Base Closure Amid Afghanistan Withdrawal

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III defended the Biden administration’s decision to close Bagram Air Base, the military’s main hub in Afghanistan, and focus on defending Kabul’s international airport for evacuations.

Retaining Bagram would have required putting as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in harm’s way just to operate and defend it, and it would have contributed little to the mission that we’ve been assigned. And that was to protect and defend the embassy, which was some 30 miles away. That distance from Kabul also rendered Bagram of little value any evacuation. The staying at Bagram, even for counterterrorism purposes, meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do. And as for the mission’s end, my judgment remains that extending beyond the end of August would have greatly imperiled our people and our mission. The Taliban made clear that their cooperation would end on the 1st of September. And as you know, we face grave and growing threats from ISIS-K. Staying longer than we did would have made it even more dangerous for our people, and would not have significantly changed the number of evacuees we could get out. The fact that the Afghan Army that we and our partners trained simply melted away in many cases without firing a shot took us all by surprise, and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise. We need to consider some uncomfortable truths. That we didn’t fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in the senior ranks. That we didn’t grasp the damaging effect the frequent and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders. That we didn’t anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement. And that the Doha agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on Afghan soldiers. And finally, that we failed to grasp that there was only so much for which, and for whom, many of the Afghan forces would fight.

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