Gen. Frank McKenzie, the former head of U.S. Central Command, believes the United States’s enemies made inaccurate assessments about Washington’s willingness to defend and assist allies in need following the chaotic withdrawal.
“I think our actions in August 2021 convinced potential opponents that we were weak and feckless, and they may have drawn certain conclusions from that,” he told the Washington Examiner in an interview on Wednesday. “I believe that they were wrong in those conclusions, that we would not stand behind our friends, that we couldn’t be depended on the crisis, and that we would turn and run from places of danger.”
The U.S. military conducted a noncombatant evacuation operation beginning in mid-August as the Taliban overthrew the U.S.-backed government only weeks before the American forces’ departure date. The U.S. was able to transport roughly 120,000 civilians out of Kabul, but those efforts were marred by the Aug. 26 ISIS-K suicide bomber who killed 13 service members and another 170 Afghan civilians and the botched U.S. drone strike three days later that unintentionally targeted an innocent civilian and killed 10.
McKenzie didn’t name Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched an invasion of Ukraine less than six months after the U.S. left Afghanistan, but he referenced the U.S.’s continued commitment to Kyiv.
“That has proven not to be the case in Ukraine, and I’m very proud of the actions that the United States and our partners have taken to support Ukraine against Russia’s unjust and aggressive war,” he explained.
The former CENTCOM commander’s argument that the U.S. adversaries interpreted the withdrawal as weakness and sought to capitalize is not new but that it has mainly been a criticism from Republicans who attack the Biden administration for how it went.
U.S. officials have warned over the last couple of weeks that they had intelligence indicating Beijing was considering whether to provide Russia with lethal aid for use in Ukraine. They have specified that they hadn’t seen China do this but that it was on the table for them, which the U.S. advised against.
Providing Russia with weapons that would likely be used to target Ukrainian civilians would be “an act of shocking irresponsibility,” McKenzie added.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping traveled to Moscow this week for a highly anticipated in-person meeting with Putin as the two authoritarian leaders have found themselves increasingly at odds with the U.S. and its Western allies. While the two leaders pledged to further their bilateral relations, neither made any mention of military assistance.
The U.S. was wary of the meeting and discounted talk of China’s peace proposal for the war in Ukraine, which heavily favors Russia.
Putin said he supports “many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China.” It includes a ceasefire that would freeze the current battlefield positions in place, essentially locking in Russia’s gains on the battlefield as its territory, which is a nonstarter for Kyiv. U.S. officials have said Russia could use the ceasefire as an opportunity to refit, resupply, and redeploy its troops for a future offensive.
“We are concerned that, instead, China will reiterate calls for a ceasefire that leaves Russian forces inside Ukraine sovereign territory,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said on Monday.
“And any ceasefire that does not address the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine would effectively ratify Russia’s illegal conquests, enabling Russia to entrench its positions and then to restart the war at a more advantageous time for them,” he added.