Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, former head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), has spoken exclusively to Fox News about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, labeling it “a fatal flaw” in history’s view.
McKenzie situated himself in the chaotic aftermath of the withdrawal, regretting many decisions he couldn’t reverse. One such regret was the basic decision to evacuate, which he believes was the wrong one: “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,” he said.
One event McKenzie reflects on is the Abbey Gate bombing of August 26th, 2021. The suicide bomber, operating under ISIS-K, killed 13 U.S. service members and almost 200 Afghans.
Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a Marine sniper, lost several limbs in the bombing. Vargas-Andrews maintained to lawmakers that U.S. military leaders had “ignored” his warnings of intel regarding the suicide bomber, despite McKenzie contending there had been no intelligence to support the claim.
McKenzie further addressed the threats U.S. forces were monitoring before the attack, claiming there had been “no description of a bomber meeting the description” Vargas-Andrews saw. Moreover, there had been “no specific intelligence that we knew what the bomber looked like that he was carrying a backpack with three yellow stripes.”
With U.S. military personnel aware of terrorist activity in the days before the attack, a deal was struck with the Taliban to provide security around the perimeter of the airport. McKenzie did not regret cutting the deal: “I feel had we not done so, our casualties would have been significantly higher,” he shared.
McKenzie also believes the Taliban did not intentionally let the ISIS-K bomber through, citing intelligence on a variety of targets U.S. military had told the Taliban to investigate.
Despite his regret over the withdrawal, McKenzie does not doubt the current CENTCOM commander’s findings that ISIS-K is capable of carrying out an attack on U.S. interests from Afghanistan. His one piece of advice, after having “examined everything we did”? Keeping troops in Afghanistan.
For Gen. Frank McKenzie, the events of August 2021 will haunt him for the rest of his life. Reflecting on what measures could have been taken differently, he laments the tragic cost he could not prevent.