Two years later, Miller was serving in Iraq, fighting an insurgency the Defense Ministry had yet to recognize, when his vehicle was ambushed near Baghdad, and he was shot and wounded. He then returned to Iraq as the Deputy Commander and Commander of the Delta Force on several occasions, participating in the successful hunt for arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and leading special operations forces in brutal fighting in the province. west of Anbar, where terrorists were infiltrating from Syria. This operation was part of the largely successful “wave” of US troops in Iraq and the “Anbar miracle” that seemed to herald yet another victory – until the 2011 US troop withdrawal allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to reconstitute itself as the formidable Islamic State of Iraq. and Syria (ISIS).
Miller returned to Afghanistan during the 2010-2011 “surge”, when US forces numbered over 100,000, and returned again in 2013-2014 to serve as the commanding general of Joint Task Force in Afghanistan. He would command in both theaters of war in 2016-2018 as the Army Joint Special Operations Command Chief, operational headquarters for elite US commandos such as Delta Force and Navy SEAL Team Six.
His career has been built in part on his understanding of the dynamics of conflict on the ground. But on the eve of his departure from Afghanistan earlier this week, Miller and NATO’s Resolute Support Command had withdrawn their field liaison officers, thus losing all visibility of what is happening with the Afghan security forces. who are trying to push back the Taliban. Recent reports suggest that the Taliban now control more than 160 of the country’s 407 districts – up from around 61 in 2018 – with entire garrisons of Afghan troops surrendering, in some cases without a fight. The Afghan Defense Minister has ordered a “strategic consolidation” of his troops, concentrating them in major cities while ceding much of the countryside to the Taliban. In what some experts interpret as a sign of desperation, the Afghan government is even again forming alliances with independent armed militias with a history of Taliban animosity, in an attempt to survive in the event of an all-out civil war.
In a recent discussion with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran diplomat who has led the US peace talks with the Taliban, Miller referred to recent negative trend lines inside Afghanistan. The two Americans most personally identified with recent efforts to end the war have agreed that Afghanistan is a special country, where events can take a brutal turn very quickly. Miller acknowledged a certain pessimism in our talks: there are all possibilities, he said, that the Afghan security forces cannot meet.
“The almost one-unit Afghan security forces are less confident, and its leaders are obviously worried, as much of this affair is about trust – and in the face of the aggressive Taliban offensive and the surrender of some garrisons FAA shortage right now, ”he told me.
Strategic consolidations of Defense Ministry forces in major cities are tactically good, he said. “But the question is, will that be enough?”
Miller assumed command of Operation Resolute Support believing that commanders can learn more from aspects of operations that go badly than from those that go well. In 2018, that meant that the 14,000 US troops and 6,500 NATO troops and their leaders in Afghanistan, as the bulwark of Resolute Support, were learning a lot, and in a hurry.