Pentagon Says It Learned Valuable ‘Lessons’ From Afghanistan Withdrawal

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter & Pentagon Correspondent
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The Pentagon said it learned critical lessons from the war in Afghanistan that shaped its response to future crises in a statement after submitting a classified review of the withdrawal to Congress.

A summary of a government-wide review of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan in September 2021, released Thursday, blamed the Trump administration for constraining options during the withdrawal and leading to what is widely considered a chaotic and poorly executed withdrawal. In a classified after action report provided simultaneously to congressional committees, the Department of Defense said it gained critical insights on how to approach issues like planning, coordination between elements of the White House and communication with allies and partners, according to a statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“As this experience underscored, when conducting contingency planning, it is necessary to plan early and extensively for low probability, high-risk scenarios,” the unclassified report found.

“Some of the most accurate insights that surfaced in the months of planning on Afghanistan came from conducting simulation exercises,” it continued. (RELATED: ‘Rome Is Burning’: Afghan Gov’t Was Misled By US Officials And Ignored Signs Of America’s Exit, Report Alleges)

For example, the National Security Council, including Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley — both veterans of the Afghanistan conflict — set up “Tiger Teams” twice to simulate responses to anticipated Russian aggression in Ukraine, CNN reported. The groups imagined potential responses should Russian President Vladimir Putin escalate the war through use of chemical or biological weapons, striking NATO territory or take other measures, and what the consequences of the U.S. response to those actions might entail.

While most of these scenarios never materialized thanks to the superior quality and willingness to fight demonstrated by Ukraine’s military compared to the Afghan National Army, the Biden administration was prepared to address a range of contingencies, the report found.

“We remain ready,” the report said.

DOD began an independent review process in December 2021, reviewing all department policy related to Afghanistan from January 2020 until the time of the review initiation.

“The purpose of the [after action review] was to examine decision points, constraints, and assumptions in order to contribute toward a whole-of-government effort to learn, improve, and incorporate lessons learned into our response to future crises,” Austin said.

It served an important role to “inform future DOD decision-making,” he added.

#GenMilley: One lesson must never be forgotten: every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine who served there in Afghanistan, for 20 consecutive years, protected our country from attack by terrorists, and for that they should be forever proud, and we should be forever grateful.

— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) September 28, 2021


“The Department is committed to working with Congress and our partners across government to continue identifying the lessons learned from this process and turning them into meaningful action.,” Austin said.

Austin, in testimony to Congress on March 29, said he had “no regrets” regarding DOD conduct during the withdrawal, which included a suicide attack that left 13 American servicemembers dead.

Congressmembers asked Austin whether anyone in the Pentagon had been held accountable for the perceived failures of the withdrawal.

“To my knowledge, no,” he said. He stressed the military’s successes, including assisting in the evacuation of 124,000 Afghan allies from Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul after the Taliban overran Afghanistan’s capital city.

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