The nation’s top military officials will publicly be facing tough questioning from Congress about the execution of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, in their first appearance before lawmakers since the U.S. left the country at the end of August.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, are testifying Tuesday before the Senate Armed Service Committee.
President Biden announced in April he would order the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and end the 20-year war in Afghanistan by the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, a date he later moved up to August 31. But that plan to move out not just the U.S. military, but also hundreds of Americans and thousands of vulnerable Afghans who had helped the U.S. during the war, was largely dependent on the belief that the Afghan government would remain in power throughout the withdrawal.
The U.S. intended to keep its embassy in Kabul to engage diplomatically with the Afghan government, but as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan and toppled the Afghan government two weeks before the withdrawal was complete, the State Department and Defense Department altered their plans.
Mr. Biden authorized sending 6,000 troops – more than double the 2,500 that were in Afghanistan when the withdrawal began in May – into Kabul to evacuate U.S. personnel and vulnerable Afghans ahead of the August 31 deadline.
On August 26, an attack by an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members and over 150 Afghan civilians, marking the deadliest day for the U.S. military in over a decade.
In an attempt to prevent more attacks in the final days of the withdrawal, U.S. Central Command conducted an airstrike that turned out to be a tragic mistake. The strike killed 10 innocent civilians, including seven children.
Ultimately, the U.S. military helped evacuate over 124,000 people but left many behind.
The Pentagon leaders are expected to answer for these miscalculations in the hearing, but another subject, recent books that include anecdotes about Milley’s actions during the Trump administration could divert some attention from the subject of Afghanistan.
Milley’s concern about former President Trump’s actions in the waning days of his administration have made it into three new books, including “Peril,” by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. In “Peril,” Woodward and Costa outline two phone calls Milley made to his Chinese counterpart assuring him the U.S. had no intention of striking.
He has already faced criticism over these anecdotes. In a statement, a spokesman for Milley said, “His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Tuesday’s hearing will be the first time Milley may be asked to address the “Peril” reporting in person.
House lawmakers will hear from Austin, Milley and McKenzie on Wednesday.
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