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Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee called on top U.S. military officials to resign over their handling of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal during Tuesday’s Senate hearing.
“In my view, that mission can't be called a success in any way, shape or form, logistical or otherwise,” Hawley said. “Secretary Austin, I think you should resign. I think this mission was a catastrophe. I think there's no other way to say it, and there has to be accountability. I respectfully submit it should begin with you.”
Blackburn scolded Austin, as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, for not having already submitted a letter of resignation over the Afghanistan debacle.
“Nobody has resigned,” she said. “Nobody has submitted their resignation. And we've got thousands of people watching this hearing today that are looking at you all and saying, ‘I can't believe they're sitting there and not answering the questions and are trying to punt.’”
Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Tuesday scolded top U.S. military officials for “politicizing” the military and damaging the American people’s trust.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blackburn said during the hearing that the three could be remembered in history as “the three that broke the military.”
“This is causing just a lot of anger from people who have trusted the military,” she said. “They have felt like the military was one of the most trustworthy institutions. But in order to get a name in a book, in order to not be drawn into a political fight, what you have managed to do is to politicize the U.S. military [and] to downgrade our reputation with our allies.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., slammed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for repeating the Biden administration’s “talking point” that American citizens weren’t stranded in Afghanistan.
“We have no presence any longer in Afghanistan,” Hawley said during Tuesday's Senate hearing. “There were hundreds of Americans, and not just Americans generally, civilians you left behind against the president's explicit commitment not to leave until all American citizens were out and to safety. That is not what happened. And now we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out of this country.”
“They’re stuck behind enemy lines,” he said. “So please don’t tell me that we’re not leaving Americans behind. You left them behind. Joe Biden left them behind and frankly it was a disgrace.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., blasted her Republicans colleagues’ “sudden interest” in Afghanistan and described their criticism of President Biden’s military withdrawal as playing politics.
“This week we will have our fifth hearing on Afghanistan in the eight months since President Biden took office,” the senator complained. “During the Trump years, as the Afghan government and the Afghan army wrapped up one failure after another, the Republicans seem far less interested in this topic, holding one public hearing a year.
“The Republicans’ sudden interest in Afghanistan is plain old politics,” she added.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Ark., fired back that Warren’s comments were “a little bit rich” coming from someone “who wants to gut the military and its readiness.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday there are “fewer than 100” American citizens still trying to flee Afghanistan after the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal last month.
During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin was asked to give a “best estimate” on the remaining Americans in Afghanistan. He said there are “currently fewer than 100 American citizens who want to depart and are ready to leave" the now-Taliban-controlled country.
“We got out 21 American citizens today, along with their family members, and we will continue to work,” he said, adding that the numbers “fluctuate daily.”
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed Tuesday that he spoke to multiple authors for their books about former President Donald Trump.
During testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee about the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Milley said he spoke to Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker for their book, “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year," as well as Bob Woodward, but not Robert Costa, for their co-authored book, “Peril."
During questioning by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Milley also admitted speaking to Michael Bender for his book, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost.”
Milley said he hadn’t personally read any of the books and could not answer whether he had been accurately represented in them.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Tuesday that President Biden “lied” about his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan for political purposes after top defense officials said the president didn’t take their advice on keeping 2,500 troops in the country.
“President Biden lied when he told the American people that nobody urged him to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan,” Sasse said in a press release. “Today, under oath, General McKenzie flatly contradicted the President. This is the worst American foreign policy disaster in a generation and the President is trying to cover his a-- with political spin.”
The senator was referring to comments made Tuesday by the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he recommended the U.S. maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during the same hearing that he also made the recommendation, appearing to contradict Biden’s statements that he couldn’t “recall” any such advice.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Ark., said Tuesday there has been “zero accountability” from the Biden administration on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.
“I've never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this,” the senator fumed during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“On this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability, no responsibility from anybody,” he added.
Sullivan made the comments to Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who minutes earlier called the U.S. evacuation efforts from Afghanistan a “logistical success, but a strategic failure.”
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the U.S. military evacuation from Afghanistan last month was a “strategic failure.”
“It was a logistical success, but a strategic failure,” Milley said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “And I think those are two different."
Democratic senators argued during the hearing that the chaotic U.S. military evacuation of 124,000 people out of Afghanistan was a success, despite the Aug. 26 terrorist attack that left 13 U.S. service members dead.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel Tuesday that he will not resign his post out of protest over President Biden refusing his advice to keep 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“Resigning is a really serious thing. It's a political act, if I’m resigning in protest,” Milley said. “My job is to provide advice. My statutory responsibility is to provide legal advice or best military advice to the president. And that's my legal requirement. That's what the law is. The president doesn't have to agree with that advice.
“It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken,” he added. “My dad didn't get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima. And those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don't get the choice to resign. And I'm not going to turn my back on them.”
Milley said earlier in the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he recommended the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan prior to the chaotic military withdrawal last month, appearing to contradict Biden’s statements that he couldn’t “recall” any such recommendation.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday that he recommended the U.S. keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan prior to the chaotic military withdrawal last month, appearing to contradict Biden’s statements that he received no such recommendation.
“I won't share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. And I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan,” Milley said in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The comments appeared to contradict what the president told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos last month, saying he couldn’t “recall” any such recommendation.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday defended pulling U.S. troops out of Bagram Air Base and handing it back to the Afghan government just weeks before it was overtaken by the Taliban.
“Retaining Bagram would have required putting as many as 5,000 U.S. troops in harm's way just to operate and defend it,” Austin said in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Austin said keeping a U.S. military presence at Bagram, “even for counterterrorism purposes,” would have meant staying at war in Afghanistan, which President Biden “made clear” was not an option.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday he cannot "confirm or deny" that there are 4,000 Americans still left in Afghanistan.
“I personally don't believe that there are 4,000 American citizens still left in Afghanistan,” Austin said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“But I cannot confirm or deny that,” he added.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley declared his “absolute” loyalty to the United States and defended his more than four decades of military service amid criticism for calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
"My loyalty to this nation, its people and the Constitution hasn't changed and will never change,” Milley said Tuesday during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The top U.S. military officer said he “routinely” communicated with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, and that such communications are critical to national security.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for not providing testimony on the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan until just hours before Tuesday’s Senate hearing.
Reed stated at the top of the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the rules state witness testimonies should be sent to the committee at least 48 hours in advance. The chairman said he was “disappointed” the committee didn’t get the testimony until late Monday night, “giving senators very little time to review.”
Inhofe added that there was “no reason in the world” for the testimony to be sent so late.
Gen. Mark Milley entered the U.S. Capitol just before 9 a.m. ET ahead of the 9:30 a.m. hearing.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie will testify on Tuesday in front of the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the U.S. military's chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
Austin, Milley, and McKenzie were central figures during the final days of the nearly 20-year U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, ending in an evacuation effort that led many lawmakers to question the military and Biden administration's exit strategy.
It will be their first public testimony since the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The officials are slated to testify Tuesday in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and then on Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.
Although Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled to focus on Afghanistan, other topics will likely come up, including Milley’s actions during the final months of Trump’s presidency.
Some in Congress have accused Milley of disloyalty for what the book “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, reported as assurances to a Chinese general that the U.S. had no plan to attack China, and that if it did, Milley would warn him in advance. -AP contributed
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