Former acting Secretary that Defense Christopher Miller--also an Afghanistan vet and retired Greed Beret--talks to armed forces Times' Howard Altman around AfghanistanChristopher C. Miller, then-President Donald Trump’s surprise pick to replace fired note Esper and also serve as acting defense secretary, has actually a personal stake in the result of events in Afghanistan. Together an officer through the fifth Special forces Group, he was one of the an initial troops into Afghanistan ~ 9/11, and he battled with and also trained Afghan forces. Miller, a retired colonel, was functioning on plans to leave Afghanistan by May before the election of Joe Biden. In this Aug. 18 interview with army Times, fearbut talks about his reaction come the chaos unfolding in Kabul. Exactly how the decisions to bring the war in Afghanistan have played out, his impressions of Trump, how the U.S. Can prevent al-Qaida indigenous re-establishing a visibility there, why Afghan national Security forces were unable to defend their territory, and also what he can have excellent differently.

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Some questions and also responses have been edited because that brevity.

MT: Chris, together a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, who dealt with there and helped train Afghans, what to be it like to watch the fall of Afghanistan and also the unfolding chaos in Kabul?

CM: that heartbreaking. I spent last Friday weeping all day long, because I was just so heartbroken. And then I just kind of obtained angry after ~ that because I think ns was going through the process of mourning. And also now through what’s walk on, that seems favor the United claims military has actually finally created some capabilities there. However it appears so preventable. And as a military person that understands military operations and also planning and also how we perform these things. It really bothered me a great deal. What go wrong? ns don’t know. Ns mean, it’s simple for me come sit here and Monday morning quarterback, and I don’t desire to execute that, due to the fact that everybody’s act that and all the shows, pointing fingers and also whatnot. I don’t know, i wasn’t involved in those conversations. Ns wasn’t in those rooms, whereby the president and also his leadership team made those decisions. Ns heard the president speak and you have actually to offer them respect together he’s the president of the unified States. And also we all desire this to turn out and it can. However you simply can’t assist but think as a previous military person, as former secretary of defense … girlfriend can’t help but wonder what was going on that us mishandled this so dramatically.

MT: What made friend so angry?

CM: ns felt so much of this could have been prevented. Through a small diligence and also planning. That’s more than likely the many powerful part of our military is logistics and planning ability, and the capacity to get any kind of place in the world. So, I had questions and also I still have questions, but the team that’s in over there now, they just need our support. And also I don’t desire to be finger -pointing nerd second guessing or chicken-lipping them at this time. What’s worrying to me, though, is … the all seemed to begin to really hit Sunday. That course, that’s the day whereby the Taliban gotten in Kabul, with civilization that space stuck in bed-down locations and also are in a bad way, questioning for assistance. That seems choose things are coming with each other now. But at the time, ns couldn’t help wonder if us couldn’t have actually predicted that was going to happen. We’d been there for 20 years. Obviously, we had all the knowledge we required there. To usage the dreadful Rumsfeld phrases about known unknowns and also unknown unknowns, this was no an unknown unknown. This was a known known, us knew what to be going come happen. Certainly, after twenty years on the ground, we had all the info we needed. And also somehow it wasn’t. I want to know, ns really desire to recognize what the decision=making procedure was and why we didn’t take different actions and put in place various plans. So, that’s type of whereby I am.

MT: What would certainly you have done?

CM: It’s simple for me to say what ns would have done. It’s no relevant. I thought we an extremely much had actually a plan for the tap the money of U.S. Pressures from Afghanistan in an orderly, intended process. Now, why the wasn’t enforcement by this administration is past my expertise at this time. Ns don’t recognize why the is.

MT: have you been in touch with world who are stuck in in Kabul, maybe previous Afghan protection forces, Afghan interpreters?

CT: Yes

MT: What’s that been like?

CM: It’s for this reason hard. In one monster way. I was talk to a colleague of mine that I’d grown increase with and who simply left a an extremely high-level position in the military, and he replied, ‘I feel favor I have a mission. For the very first time, I’m just not fighting the bureaucracy or trying to safeguard my people, I actually feel favor I’m trying to do something worthwhile and relevant.’ So, it is it. You sitting there at 1:30 in the morning, on Sunday night, Monday morning, simply absolutely exhausted. Yet you couldn’t assist but think, I can be exhausted here, yet I can’t imagine what those folks are going through. So, you like, ns going to go a small bit further, i’m going to try a little bit more. So, in a weird type of way, the felt choose you had a mission again, but you were additionally just heartbroken the it all played out this way, where these people were put in such risk and without any type of deliberation, it seems, obviously.


Chris Miller, then a member the the 5th Special pressures Group, in Afghanistan. (Courtesy kris Miller).

MT: In her initial post to troops in November, 2020, you wrote that ‘This battle isn’t over. We are on the verge of beating al Qaeda and also its associates, we must avoid our past strategic error that failing to see the fight through to the finish.’ walk we check out the fight through to the finish?

CM: I thought there to be a different means to finish our operations in Afghanistan. I carry out firmly think that. We have to remember, loss is a very specific, an extremely specific definition in the military. And also I had to watch this up. Defeat is no a long-term state. Defeat can be a short-lived state. Ns felt strongly at the time that we had defeated al-Qaida, ns still think castle defeated. Now the question is, have the right to we keep pressure on lock to deny them the capability to mass and also train and also equip and plan and also execute follow-on assaults that could adjust our means of life? ns strongly feeling that we had defeated al-Qaida. We had actually not defeated the Taliban. We were for sure in a stalemate in ~ the time. I felt that in the administration that I represented — the Trump administration — i felt we had a great plan for how we were going to wind this thing down. Friend know, the idea was, we would force some kind of coalition interim government and also use classic Afghan processes and governmental structures — the Loya Jirga. And much like occurred after the Bonn accords in 2001, 2002, that course, to be the Loya Jirga. There to be a method that we might have had an Afghan solution. Now the counter argument is Ghani, the president wouldn’t have enabled that. I felt we still had leverage end the process. And also I don’t recognize why we gave that leverage up. Ns wasn’t a component of the discussions ~ 12:01 a.m. Top top the 20th of January 2021.

MT: carry out you think the over-the-horizon technique being said by the Pentagon now of being able to provide some level of security from afar to prevent teams like al-Qaida from re-establishing us is feasible?

CM: Absolutely. ~ Desert One in 1980, when we failed to rescue our hostages the were being held in Tehran, we’ve developed the most remarkable counterterrorism organization in the world. It can go any place in the people in 24 hrs or less and also protect american or strike back when needed. We know how to perform this. That’s no the question. It’s the will certainly to do it. And also so yes, we can absolutely protect against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups that have actually an global inclination or an global reach from massing, we deserve to do that.

MT: In December 2020, friend met with Ghani and Afghan officials. What was your sense, then, around their ability to safeguard their very own country?

CM: chairman Ghani to be enormously gracious and also so was his angry president. He known the sacrifice that so countless Americans and also cautioned that the Taliban to be a great threat. We all knew that. It no anything i didn’t know. Us didn’t talk specifically around the to trust of the Afghan nationwide Security Forces. I’d been there long enough and I knew the difficulties there and also I’d functioned with surrogate forces. Oftentimes, in the past, there were methodologies and also ways that using distinct operations pressures or paramilitary forces, to provide capabilities to the Afghan nationwide Security Forces. Particularly to speak to in fires, close waiting support, sustainment assets. So, us know exactly how to do this. We’ve excellent it before. … I’d controversy we’re doing that in Syria an extremely effectively. Appropriate now. I believe the strategy the was offered in the operational plan that was supplied to loss the Islamic State in Iraq and also Syria was very effective. I know we could have excellent something of the exact same sort v the Afghan national Security Forces.

MT: What to be your feeling of your capabilities? Did you get any kind of sense that something favor what we’ve checked out in the last seven days would happen?

CM: ns think any kind of intelligence assessment analysis would identify that the Afghan national Security forces have an excellent heroism and fighting ability. They required some stiffening and also some support from really low-key, small … American and allied support that probably would have provided them the trust to continue to fight. I have a many empathy because that the young Afghan soldier in one outlying province … to see that the Taliban had moved in and recognizing that you no have any type of support. I think it would certainly be obvious and based top top your legacy of warfighting, that most likely you’re going come not proceed to hit at that point.


Afghan protection guards stand on a wall as hundreds of world gather exterior the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17. (AP)

MT: execute you think the U.S. Announcing the withdrawal was the final straw?

CM: I have actually no idea. Yet I think we had all the information we needed about the tradition of Afghan warfighting and also how they command combat. And also it would be it was very clear to me that without some type of assistance the Afghan nationwide Security pressures … would certainly be likely challenged with significant resistance come not proceed to fight.

MT: What advice go you give President Trump around how to continue in Afghanistan? and also how go he take it that?

CM: us didn’t speak specifically about tactics or force structure or pressure capabilities. That agreed come — ns think we were at 5,800

MT: go he object to the 2,500 number?

CM: No. The president to be comfortable with that. The idea that we would maintain leverage and shot to, together I mentioned earlier, try to develop some type of interim government and coalition government that would have lessened the chance of a chaotic departure.

MT: What to be his master of the situation in Afghanistan? and what walk he want to see, from her vantage point as the acting defense secretary?

CM: ns felt that he had actually a very great grasp. Among the criticisms is that, girlfriend know, he didn’t understand national security. He had actually enormous usual sense once it concerned how points work. And also I was constantly intrigued, if no surprised, since I picked up all the push that, girlfriend know, the didn’t understand what he was doing and whatnot. I never really knew that. I didn’t understand the president till the night where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was eliminated in the operation. That’s whereby I met him. I was v all our nationwide security interactions, ns was constantly very, an extremely impressed through his grasp of the details and grasp the the overarching situation. And also people will certainly say, Well, he no use common national protection language, which most civilization would like. ‘What’s the many dangerous course of action, those the most probable opponent course of action? and also that sort of vernacular. Yet I always saw the he actually spanned all the stuff in his very own way, due to the fact that he’s a businessman and he to be looking in ~ it from the context, the means he to be trained. But at the finish of the day, everybody acquired his say, he listened to everybody. He asked really good questions. And also at the finish of a room level meeting in the Oval Office, he constantly went around and also asked because that your final recommendation. And also then the made a decision. And I’m like, ‘What an ext could you want from a boss?’

MT: carry out you think the negotiating with the Taliban was at some point a mistake?

CM: No, the wasn’t. That’s exactly how these battles end. You have to negotiate v your opponent and that insurgencies and also counterinsurgency, this is kind of par because that the course, this is a standard. There to be no capability to loss the Taliban on the battlefield. There was the capacity — us just chose not to execute what was important to carry out that, i beg your pardon I, as an American, i agreeed with, by the way. We can win. Yet is it worth the trampling the American values and also ethics and also norms? The United says military have the right to win any type of war, let’s be perfectly clear. But we also have our value-based democracy wherein there’s some things that we’re no going come do. And also I totally agree with that.

MT: What would it have actually taken to win to success the war in Afghanistan.

CM: In 2002, deciding to make it a one-of-a-kind operations theater and also just save it small footprint and also not increase the war the way we did.


Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., center, listens as President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room that the White home in Washington on Sunday to announce the Islamic State team leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has actually been killed during a U.S. Raid in Syria. White house Social Media director Dan Scavino, far left, national Security Council senior Director the Counterterrorism Kashyap "Kash" Pramod Patel, 2nd from right, and also National security Council an elderly Director for Counterterrorism and Threat Networks kris Miller, right, stand by Graham. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

MT: to be there mission creep in Afghanistan?

CM: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Classic example the mission creep and also lack of strategy coherence. I was simply a young human when ns went. I had orange hair then. So, ns wasn’t connected in those discussions. I was just an implementer, favor so many of our current members and veterans were. So, ns wasn’t associated in that, yet you execute the orders provided by your superior.

MT: yet now, friend look back, you have the white hair. Girlfriend were exhilaration defense secretary. What room the great to be learned through the U.S. Military and the American public about getting connected in a international conflict?

CM: They’re not lessons learned. Castle lessons relearned. No. 1 is cultural arrogance will certainly hurt you, and understanding local dynamics and how international countries and also their populations connect is yes, really important. No. 2, we did the again. Us tried to — similar to we go in Vietnam — us tried to create an army in ours image, which was totally inappropriate for their skills, your desires and their legacies of warfighting. So, the was another lesson relearned, I would argue. And also then ns really think we need to be moral with ourselves as a military. In this wars, the United says military, us pretty much had complete authorization and the capacity to execute the strategy us decided, and also I think we have to do some major soul searching. The thing is, we come out that Iraq, it took forever to perform Iraq great learned — the armed forces was an extremely adamantly opposed. Some really courageous general officers and also others determined to carry out that, that course. That occurs, what, eight year after the end of the war? i think it’s really, really vital that the army does one accurate, fair, unbiased evaluate of what occurred.

MT: when you were part of the decision-making system, to be you i was sure in a may withdrawal together President Trump had actually wanted? would certainly it have actually worked and also why?

CM: Yeah, i mean, there’s this. The negotiation procedure wasn’t over v the agreement between the joined States and the Taliban. There to be a follow-on phase, which was going to be to develop an interim coalition government and let the Afghans usage their traditional structure that the Loya Jirga to ratify the following government and also the next stage of their advance as a country. I don’t know, because I’d never ever happened. And also the idea was that we maintain a little counterterrorism footprint there as well. … So, it no executed. So, i can’t say. Well, maybe it was. I don’t know,

MT: What were the plans that you were talk about? would there have been a complete withdrawal, offering up Bagram for instance, or have it kept as a U.S. Base?

CM: At the point, we weren’t into the details,. Gen. Miller and also CENTCOM command Gen. McKenzie had countless courses of action for how to retrograde, so i did not go into the an accurate details that that. And also giving increase Bagram — ns mean, those were always the questions, friend know? Is the Kandahar? Is it Bagram? however we no at a allude where we can go into those details yet since we still had actually some various other things the we needed that us planned to do.

MT: Was giving up Bagram a mistake?

CM: that is simple for me to sit here and also Monday morning quarterback. Ns don’t recognize the difficulties they to be under. And also I nothing know, the decision-making that went into giving increase Bagram. Having an in the middle of nowhere, whereby you can manage a large amount of room outside the perimeter is always helpful. However by the same token, friend know, exactly how would human being have gained to Bagram, it’s, what, 60 mile north of Kabul? ns don’t know. So, it’s straightforward for me come sit here and also throw rocks. But I’m simply not going to do that.

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MT: have to President Biden have actually blamed chairman Trump for what is taking place now in Afghanistan?

CM: straight politics. Don’t desire to get involved. Nothing care. The not beneficial to America. I think the question is, who going to accept responsibility? and also I think that my point is, ns was constantly raised as a armed forces enlisted guy — never was an NCO — then to be an officer. I was always raised to expropriate responsibility once something walk wrong. The was the ethos. And also that to be the core worth that ns felt strong about. Ns haven’t viewed anybody accept duty yet. I think there does should be accounting because other went dramatically wrong — someone need to accept responsibility. Ns don’t understand who the is. Ns don’t have enough information. … this is what I’m concerned about, prefer if she a young buck sergeant, or you’re a young 2nd lieutenant, first lieutenant, and you’re city hall your management kind that play this politics. Ns mean, what is that the post that the our leadership should it is in sending? These kids are desperate for authenticity, they’re desperate for simply truth. And also when they see the authorized of the military in this political affairs, it must be really confusing for them. And that’s what comes to me the most around what’s walking on best now.