Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), confirmed on Wednesday that a top Taliban official offered the U.S. control of Kabul to conduct evacuation operations.
McKenzie joined chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify in front of the House Armed Services Committee on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
While taking questions from GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, McKenzie confirmed, in part, a report from August that stated that Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar offered the U.S. full control of Kabul while evacuation operations were completed. The report, from The Washington Post, went on to claim that McKenzie and Baradar eventually agreed that the Taliban would control the city while the U.S. military would remain in control of Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“I met with Mullah Baradar on 15 August to pass a message to him that we were withdrawing, and if they attempted to disrupt that withdrawal we would punish them severely for that,” McKenzie began.
“But did he offer for you to have security over all of Kabul, not just the airport?” Gallagher interjected.
“As part of that conversation, [Baradar] said, ‘well, why don’t you just take security of all of Kabul?’ That was not why I was there, that was not my instruction, and we did not have the resources to undertake that mission,” McKenzie said.
“I did not consider that to be a formal offer and it was not the reason why I was there, so I did not pursue it,” he said later in the questioning.
Asked if the offer to remain in control of Kabul was relayed to President Joe Biden, McKenzie stated, “The offer was made in the presence of the president’s special representative to Afghanistan” before adding that he did not know if the offer was then reported to the White House.
Taliban control of Kabul hampered U.S. forces’ attempts to evacuate American citizens and allies in the final weeks of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Taliban militants set up checkpoints that blocked citizens and Afghans from getting to the airport, and Taliban security did not stop ISIS-K terrorists from infiltrating the city and launching an attack on one of the airport’s main gates. The attack killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.
On Monday, an NBC News report claimed that McKenzie threatened Baradar to not come with 20 to 30 kilometers of Kabul or risk a U.S. airstrike. The day after the meeting, the Taliban conquered Kabul unopposed and took over control of the city. As The Daily Wire reported:
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar as the terror group surrounded Kabul, preparing for a final push to topple the Afghan government. McKenzie warned Baradar that should a Taliban force come within 20 to 30 kilometers of the city, the militants would be hit by U.S. airstrikes, according to the report.
Baradar acknowledged McKenzie’s threat and pointed out that some Taliban fighters were already within the designated strike zone and asserted that those fighters would not be moving. McKenzie explained that the U.S. mission was to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies from Kabul before the American military made its final departure from the country.
“The next day, Taliban fighters rolled into Kabul, and no U.S. warplanes bombed the insurgents, the three senior defense officials said,” NBC News reported.