Retired Marine Col. Andrew Milburn is not one to mince words.
President Joe Biden’s top military advisers should have predicted Afghanistan’s imminent collapse and then offered to resign if the commander in chief refused to revise his plans for what turned out to be a disastrous military withdrawal from the country, Milburn said.
Milburn is harshly critical of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Army Gen. Mark Mill, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Central Command head Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who oversaw the rapid exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan followed by a hurried re-insertion of forces as withdrawal plans collapsed under the pressure of a Taliban sweep of the country.
Thirteen members of the U.S. military were killed in the debacle.
“Can you imagine if those three or even two out of three had offered their resignation?” Milburn, a 31-year veteran of the Marine Corps who retired in 2019, asked during an interview with Fox News. “You don’t think that might have caused the president to think twice?”
That kind of independent, principled thinking, he said, takes a back seat to obeying orders in today’s military.
“I think they’re products of a culture that has arisen within the U.S. military that simply does not encourage innovative thinking or creative thinking,” Milburn told Fox. “That rewards perhaps obedience above all else.”
Milburn, whose last post in uniform was deputy commander of Special Operations Central, part of the military’s Central Command, went on to say, “I think within our organizations, the Joint Force, we sadly have a culture that does not always see the most strong-willed creative thinkers rise to the top. It’s a culture that I think is amiss.”
Joint Force is a general term applied to a force composed of significant elements of two or more military departments operating under a single commander.
That culture, which discourages independent thinking, led, at least in part, to the catastrophic exit from Afghanistan, according to Milburn.
There was not even any planning for a worst-case scenario that turned out to be the case, he said.
“No one really without any sense of foresight could say [Biden] will yank [the troops] out and the Afghan government will not collapse,” Milburn explained.
“Certainly, as military planners, you always have some contingency plan, no matter how unlikely you think an event is to occur,” he noted. “If the events are going to be catastrophic, you plan for that.”
What should military commanders and leadership have done, according to Milburn?
“That is the time to stand your ground and simply say, ‘No boss. I’ll give you my resignation,’” Millburn told Fox. “That should be our collective expectation of these people.”
Instead, Milburn pointed to the fact that no one has taken to account for what happened in Afghanistan.
“How are these three holding themselves responsible?” Milburn said of Austin, Milley and McKenzie.
“It’s very difficult to explain exactly what that means if you continue in office,” he said. “Holding yourself responsible often is a prelude to resignation. Not always, but … that’s really the ultimate sanction. So, it is hard to take them seriously.”
Military professionals are supposed to obey orders, but not blindly, Milburn said.
“There is a point where, if we see something that is happening catastrophic to the institution, then doesn’t our oath to the Constitution obligate us to take action?” he asked.
Military leadership resigning in clashes with the president is not unheard of.
In December 2018, James Mattis, former President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary, resigned after Trump ordered a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Mattis’ move was widely seen as a protest of that decision, as Military.com reported at the time.
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