Former CENTCOM chief who oversaw Afghanistan exit reveals “fatal flaw”

General Frank McKenzie, the former head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), has called the basic withdrawal decision from Afghanistan a “wrong decision.”

“I have a lot of regrets about how it ended in Afghanistan. I have a regret with the basic decision, which I think was the wrong decision,” McKenzie, who oversaw the US exit amid the Taliban takeover two years ago, admitted in a recent interview with Fox News.

“I particularly regret that we did not choose to begin to evacuate our people, our embassy personnel, our American citizens, and our at-risk Afghans at the time we made the decision to bring in our combat forces. I think that was a serious mistake, and I think that led to the events of August 2021 directly.” 

McKenzie, now retired, said the decision to pull out was detrimental.

“I believe history is going to view the decision to come out of Afghanistan in the way that we did and the manner that we were directed to come out as a fatal flaw,” McKenzie told Fox News.

During the two-week evacuation in August 2021, the US and its allies managed to evacuate over 120,000 people from Kabul airport to safety, but tens of thousands of others were left behind, including those who had assisted the US over the past two decades.

By the end of August, the last foreign troops were pulled out of Afghanistan, marking the end of the 20-year-long war and a “complete victory” for the Taliban.

A few days before the final exit, a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport claimed the lives of 170 civilians and 13 US military personnel. The Islamic State—Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility for the attack.

When asked if he had intelligence on the suicide bomber attack despite allegations that US military leaders could have prevented it, McKenzie said,

“We were dealing with a possibility of an indirect fire attack, either rockets or mortars, but I do know that there was no intelligence to support the assertion that we knew what the bomber looked like that he was carrying a backpack with three yellow stripes. There were just none of that. We just did not have that intelligence.”

Moreover, McKenzie echoed the current CENTCOM commander’s concerns that ISKP has grown potential of carrying out an attack on US interests from within Afghanistan, stating that he still believes the US should have troops in the country. 

US President Joe Biden and his administration have been widely criticized over the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan

The US State Department After Action Review (AAR) report revealed that there was insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly those might follow, suggesting the exit had serious consequences.

The Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, criticized Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal as a “mistake of epic proportions” and an “unconditional surrender to the Taliban.”

Biden has, however, defended its decision as “the right thing to do.”

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said that the withdrawal was “an incredibly difficult” decision, but also the right one.