From left, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testify during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill

Gen. David Petraeus: The US has a ‘moral obligation’ to help those left behind in Afghanistan

The former commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan during the war, and a former CIA director spoke with The World’s host Marco Werman about the Capitol Hill hearings on the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.

The World

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington grilled top US military brass on Tuesday about the chaotic and violent US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Senate Armed Services Committee posed sharp questions to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, during the testimony.

Related: ‘We are still here’: Afghan UN employees worry about their safety

“Now, we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out of this country, coming to me, coming to members of this committee, asking for help,” said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley from Missouri. “They can’t get that help. They’re stuck behind enemy lines. So, please don’t tell me that we’re not leaving Americans behind. You left them behind. Joe Biden left them behind. And frankly, it was a disgrace.”

Related: Unaccompanied minors are among the thousands evacuated from Afghanistan

The men will also appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Gen. David Petraeus, a former commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan during the war, and a former CIA director talked about the hearing with The World’s host Marco Werman.

Marco Werman: Aside from the need for real answers from the military, what was the thread you found that ran through today’s hearing?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, I think what we have to recognize here is Washington’s inability to recognize how rapidly the collapse would be and what the consequences of that would be. Now, even though there will be plenty of this relitigation that has gone on all day today, finger-pointing, blaming and so forth, I would hope that what we could do now is put some of that on hold a bit to focus on the immediate need, which is to ensure that the remaining US citizens and green card holders are evacuated. But we also have to still discharge an unfulfilled and very substantial moral obligation. The many tens of thousands of the battlefield interpreters who shared risk alongside our soldiers for two years on the ground or more and their family members who qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa and should be evacuated, and then the many tens of thousands of additional Afghans whose work with the US and Afghan governments also put their lives at risk and also need to be seen to.
Did you hear a clear and rational explanation for why so many were left behind?
Well, no. I mean, we curtailed the evacuation before it was completed. At the end of the day, the reason after a terrible, tragic loss, of course, that probably forced that decision may be a bit sooner than might otherwise have been the case. And, of course, with tens of thousands of individuals still trying to get out. And by the way, they’re coming to all of us. I mean, anyone who was privileged to command or serve in Afghanistan or is on an organization as I am with no one left behind and so forth, we are getting multiple emails every single day from individuals who were left behind. It is a moral obligation and we need to meet it.
Also today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was asked about the August drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. He admitted he had not personally reached out to the drone aircrew that was responsible. But what do you think will be the lesson for the Defense Department from that tragic event?
Well, this has happened before, but we have worked very, very hard over the years to try to reduce this to zero. In this case, I think you do have to understand the context. There were multiple, and I’m sure that Gen. McKenzie, I’ve had conversations in recent weeks, about the dozens of actual solid intelligence indicators of a further kind of strike of a car bomb. And having taken that horrific loss at the airfield earlier, having all of those threat indicators, that is a scenario tragically in which mistakes are made. There is a very substantial review being conducted, to be sure. And I’m sure that when that is complete, that this will all be laid out and there will be explanations, understandings of why such a tragic mistake did indeed take place.
Did the pressure, you think, lead to believing in bad intelligence?
Well, we’re by no means certain that there was bad intelligence. My understanding from talking to individuals involved in this is that there were literally dozens of threat indicators. It is in a pressure-packed situation. Keeping in mind you’re looking through a soda straw. This is not a beautiful wide-angle camera. You don’t have someone narrating on the ground what is taking place. You’re trying to interpret what you are seeing through this fairly narrow field of view. And you have preconceived notions of what it is that is taking place based on the intelligence being provided. And that starts to mold into this is what you are seeing when you have particularly a ticking-time-bomb scenario where, OK, that’s the final action, and now this could be our final chance to take action, that pressure is very enormous, given especially, keep in mind, the loss of 200 human beings, including 13 of our own great young men and women in uniform.
Well, and in that drone strike, tragically, the pressure and that soda straw view led ultimately to the deaths of innocent people.
Yes, yes.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

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