On Wednesday, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Frank McKenzie, confirmed that during the evacuation operations in August, a top Taliban official offered to let the U.S. control Kabul.
The news is significant, as many of the problems stemming from the botched withdrawal have been blamed on the Taliban, rather than the U.S., being responsible for security in the capital city.
The results, as we now know, led to complete chaos at the Kabul airport, including a terrorist attack that killed 13 American soldiers.
McKenzie made his remarks during his testimony to House Armed Services Committee where he was joined by Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
During an exchange with Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, McKenzie confirmed parts of an August report by the Washington Post that claimed during the evacuation efforts, Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar offered the U.S. full control of Kabul.
That report also claimed that McKenzie and Baradar eventually agreed that the Taliban would control the city, and Hamid Karzai International Airport would remain under U.S. military control.
McKenzie said, “I met with Mullah Baradar on 15 August to pass a message to him that we were withdrawing, and if they attempted to disrupt that withdrawal we would punish them severely for that.”
Rep. Gallagher replied, “But did he offer for you to have security over all of Kabul, not just the airport?”
“As part of that conversation, he said, ‘well, why don’t you just take security of all of Kabul?’ That was not why I was there, that was not my instruction, and we did not have the resources to undertake that mission,” McKenzie said.
Later on when pressed again, McKenzie would add, “I did not consider that to be a formal offer and it was not the reason why I was there, so I did not pursue it.”
When McKenzie was asked if this offer from the Taliban had been relayed to President Joe Biden, the general said, “The offer was made in the presence of the president’s special representative to Afghanistan.”
But McKenzie added that he did not know for sure if that message made it to the White House.
The Taliban’s rule over Kabul made evacuation efforts in the waning weeks and days of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan more difficult. The notion that the Taliban might have made an offer that would have alleviated some of that difficulty is something to consider in the wake of how that situation unfolded, particularly the 13 American service members who were killed in a suicide bombing carried out by ISIS-K.
According to Gen. McKenzie on Wednesday, it sounds like the U.S. might have had that chance but no one in leadership thought to capitalize on the Taliban’s offer.
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