During the second day of U.S. congressional hearings with Pentagon leaders, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the delay in evacuating U.S. and Afghan civilians from Afghanistan was the State Department’s decision and responsibility, not the military’s, Fox News reported.
President Biden’s three top military advisors, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie, appeared before Congress for two days of questioning over the failed military withdrawal from Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 13 U.S. military personnel and dozens of Afghans following an attack by the ISIS-K terrorist group at the Kabul airport.
At the hearing, both Republicans and Democrats sharply criticized Pentagon officials for what General Milley himself called a ‘strategic failure’ because, after twenty years, it is now the same terrorists who rule Afghanistan.
One of the most criticized decisions of the Biden administration for the withdrawal from Afghanistan was the timing of the evacuation of civilians that began after the military forces handed over military bases to the Afghan government and withdrew almost completely.
Confident that the Afghan government could contain the advance of Taliban extremists, the evacuation of civilians was conducted with pressure to meet a deadline—apparently imposed by the Taliban—and security relegated to Afghan security forces.
When Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin asked the defense secretary why the evacuation of civilians was not done sooner, Austin said that “the call on how to do that and when to do it is really a State Department call.”
As Austin explained, there was concern that the Afghan government would collapse if the evacuation were done too quickly. To avoid that, the decision was made to do it more gradually.
“A number of things kind of came together to cause what happened to happen. But again, we provided our input, and we certainly would have liked to see it go faster or sooner,” the defense secretary said.
In the end, however, the evacuation had to be accelerated in the final days as Taliban extremists took over the country much faster than anticipated, the Afghan government collapsed, and the evacuation took place with the Taliban already having declared themselves rulers of Afghanistan.
The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan was completed on August 31, the deadline agreed with the Taliban.
Despite successfully evacuating more than 124,000 people from Kabul, including 6,000 U.S. citizens, there are at least 100 U.S. citizens and thousands of Afghan allies still stranded in Afghanistan.
Senior military commanders contradict President Biden
During the first day of testimony provided by Pentagon leaders, both Gen. Milley and Gen. McKenzie said that after assessing the situation in Afghanistan, they recommended leaving troops permanently in the country, overturning the agreement reached by the previous administration.
“My assessment was… back in the fall of 2020, and remained consistent throughout, that we should keep a steady state of 2,500 and it could bounce up to 3,500, maybe, something like that, in order to move toward a negotiated solution,” Gen. Milley asserted.
When asked by Senator Cotton if he had discussed it personally with Biden, Milley recused himself, saying he cannot disclose what things he discusses with the president while in office but implied that was always his recommendation. General McKenzie said he agreed with Milley’s statement.
However, the statements of both generals refute the statements of President Biden, who, during an interview with ABC, denied that any of his military advisors had recommended that he leave the troops before making sure that there would be no more danger to Americans and allies.
Some Republicans, upon hearing the generals’ testimony, called for the president’s resignation.
“Biden lied when he told Stephanopoulos no one advised him against his timeline-based withdrawal. His recklessness resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. servicemembers and abandonment of countless citizens & allies. Biden can’t avoid the consequences of his actions. He must resign,” demanded Senator Marsha Blackburn.