General Mark Milley has called the 20-year war in Afghanistan a "strategic failure" during a Senate hearing into the US' chaotic withdrawal from the country.
Milley appeared alongside US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the head of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, in the most heated cross-examination of the country’s military leadership in more than a decade.
"I think that our credibility with allies and partners around the world, and with adversaries, is being intensely reviewed by them to see which way this is going to go. And I think that 'damage' is one word that could be used, yes," said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Senate Armed Services Committee pointed to Milley's testimony, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as evidence that President Joe Biden had been untruthful when he suggested the military had not urged him to keep US troops in Afghanistan.
The top US general revealed that it had been his personal advice to Biden that at least 2,500 troops remained in Afghanistan to fight the collapse of Kabul's government and the return to Taliban rule.
Testifying alongside Milley, Austin refused to reveal his advice to Biden.
"We helped build the state, Mr Chairman, but we could not forge a nation. The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise," the US Secretary of Defense said.
The Afghan government and its US-trained army collapsed mid-August, allowing the Taliban to capture Kabul, triggering a frantic US – and international – effort to evacuate American civilians, Afghan allies, and others from Kabul airport.
General Milley also speculated on the consequences of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that "a reconstituted Al-Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility."
"And those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months. That mission will be much harder now, but not impossible. And we will continue to protect the American people," Milley added.
The hearing is ostensibly an assessment of long-term US policy in Afghanistan but with Joe Biden currently in the White House, it may turn into a judgment on his presidency.