America’s top military brass defended the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal of troops and evacuation of citizens and allies from Afghanistan Tuesday morning under intense questioning from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma.
In his opening statement, Inhofe reiterated a claim he made frequently; that the chaos and the casualties that characterized the evacuation could have been avoided if President Joe Biden had taken the advice of the experts and, among other things, begun the evacuation sooner.
“But President Biden and his advisers didn’t listen to his combat commander,” Inhofe stated. “He didn’t listen to Congress, and he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin acknowledged the airlift operation was imperfect but said the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces deserve the nation’s respect and gratitude for removing 124,000 people from the country in just over two weeks time, which he said was tens of thousands more than it was believed could be evacuated in that time.
Austin also defended Biden’s decision not to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond the Aug. 31 deadline, even though Americans and Afghan allies still remained to be evacuated.
“The Taliban made clear that their cooperation would end on the 1st of September, and as you know, we faced grave and growing threats from ISIS-K,” said Austin. “Staying longer than we did would have made it even more dangerous for our people and would not have significantly changed the number of evacuees who we could get out.”
Moreover, Austin said, there were many questionable decisions made over the 20-year course of the war, not just the last few months, and the nation must learn from all of them.
“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation,” Austin testified. “The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away – in many cases without firing a shot – took us all by surprise. It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
Testifying alongside Austin was Commander of Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milly, who spoke to problems with the withdrawal, and the risks that lie ahead, now that the U.S. has withdrawn
“We must continue to protect the United States of America and its people from terrorist attacks coming from Afghanistan,” said Milley. “A reconstituted Al-Qaida or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility.”
Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Inhofe, were trying to show that Biden has not been honest with the American people.
“President Biden stated on July 8 that Al-Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan,” said Inhofe. “I’d ask you, is Al-Qaeda gone from Afghanistan?”
“Senator, I think there are remnants of Al-Qaeda still in Afghanistan,” Austin responded.
Others picked at the president’s positive description of the withdrawal
“You and I have discussed this,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “Would you use the term ‘extraordinary success’ for what took place in August in Afghanistan?”
“That's the noncombatant evacuation, and I think one of the other Senators said it very well. It was a logistical success but a strategic failure,” Milly said.
In an interview during the lunch break, Inhofe was pleased with what he heard from the generals.
“I think they did a good job in expressing that we have a president who went in without any military advice,” Inhofe said. “In fact, all of his military advice was to the contrary.”