In their first public testimony since the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, top Pentagon leaders will face sharp questions in Congress about the chaotic withdrawal and rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban.
Republicans in particular have stepped up their attacks on President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 30, saying it leaves the United States more vulnerable to terrorism. They demand more details about the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 US service members in the last days of the pullout.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee and then Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee. General Frank McKenzie, who as head of Central Command oversaw the withdrawal, will also testify.
The Senate committee’s top Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, has peppered the Pentagon with a long list of questions about multiple aspects of the pullout, including the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Kabul International Airport that killed 169 Afghans in addition to American service. members. He is also demanding information on decision-making over the summer, as it became clear that the Taliban were overwhelming US-backed Afghan forces.
“We need a complete accounting of every factor and decision that got us to where we are today and a real plan to defend America in the future,” Inhofe wrote last week.
The withdrawal ended up being the longest in American history. The Biden administration, and some Democrats in Congress, have argued that former President Donald Trump bears part of the blame that the war ended in a Taliban victory, as his administration signed a deal with the Taliban in 2020 that promised a total US withdrawal by May. 2021. They have also marked a long year of failure for the United States to build an Afghan army that could stand up to the Taliban.
“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. These failures have manifested themselves in four presidential administrations of both political parties, ”said Senator Jack Reed, DR.I, the day after the Taliban took Kabul on August 15.
Although Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled to focus on Afghanistan, other issues are likely to come up, including Milley’s actions during the final months of Trump’s presidency.
Some in Congress have accused Milley of disloyalty for which the book “Danger”, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, assured a Chinese general that the United States had no plan to attack China and that, if it did, Milley would would warn. in advance. In the days following news of the book’s reporting, Milley declined to comment in detail, instead telling reporters that he would expose his answers directly to Congress. His only comments have been that calls with the Chinese were routine and within his job duties and responsibilities.
Both Milley and Austin have defended the US military’s execution of a pullout from Afghanistan that Biden ordered in April. The withdrawal was largely completed in early July, but several hundred soldiers remained in Kabul, along with some defensive teams, to protect the US diplomatic presence in the capital. The State Department initially said diplomats would remain after the military withdrawal was completed on Aug. 31, but when Afghan forces collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, leaving the Taliban in charge, a frenzied evacuation began.
The Pentagon has defended the execution of an airlift from the Kabul airport that transported more than 120,000 people, although it acknowledges that it had a chaotic start and was under an almost constant threat of terrorist attack.
“The Biden Administration’s onslaught of incompetence has damaged our international reputation and humiliated America on the world stage,” wrote Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, both Republicans, in the Des Moines Register. . “However, our president and secretary of state continue to pretend that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a historic success.”
Cotton and others have questioned the viability of US plans to contain al-Qaida and the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan through the use of intelligence-gathering assets and strike aircraft based outside of Afghanistan.