Military Leaders to Face Questions Over Afghan Withdrawal, Evacuation
Category: News & PoliticsVia: vic-eldred • 3 weeks ago • 92 comments
By: By Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold
The Pentagon’s leaders and the Marine Corps general who led the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will testify Tuesday on Capitol Hill in what could be a contentious session over the final days of America’s longest war as well as how a top official has handled talks with Chinese and Russian counterparts.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It will be the first time they have testified since the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15 and the U.S. withdrew from the country two weeks later.
The three officials also will testify Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan, accompanied by an emergency evacuation of Americans, foreigners and Afghan allies, is likely to dominate the hearings. The final days of the war touched nearly every U.S. congressional office as Americans and Afghans alike sought help for Afghans seeking to escape as the Taliban solidified its control of the country.
“We know—and every congressional office who tried to get people out of Afghanistan knows—that there are many U.S. citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan but couldn’t leave because the Taliban would not let their families go with them,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, the committee’s ranking member, said last week.
They likely will face questions on the preparations for drawing forces out of Afghanistan, including closing Bagram Air Base. Lawmakers also have demanded to know why more wasn’t done to shrink the number of American personnel at the U.S. Embassy and why the military didn’t escalate the evacuation of the tens of thousands of Afghans and Americans at risk before Kabul fell.
The U.S. military has said it would ensure terror threats to the U.S. would not emerge from Afghanistan through what it calls “over the horizon” capabilities, a largely air-dependent defense. But both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have raised questions about the approach, particularly given the difficulties faced by U.S. forces in their closing days in Afghanistan.
On Aug. 26, 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans were killed in a suicide-bomber attack outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, marking the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade. An additional 30 troops and hundreds more Afghans were injured
Three days later, the U.S. launched a drone attack on what it said was a suspected car bomber headed to the airport. Last month, the U.S. admitted it had instead mistakenly killed an aide worker and at least nine other civilians, including seven children. U.S. Central Command hasn’t said whether it would release a declassified version of the internal report that led to its reversal and apology over the mistaken target.
Lawmakers also are expected to question Gen. Milley about revelations in a new book concerning details of two calls to his Chinese counterpart in the last days of the Trump administration. Beijing had grown concerned that then-President Donald Trump was considering attacking China as tensions between the two nations rose in the South China Sea, leading to Gen. Milley’s decision to hold the calls.
Gen. Milley has said he would mount a vigorous defense during Tuesday’s testimony.
Since the U.S. left Afghanistan, military leaders also have faced questions over conversations with Russian officials. Last week, Gen. Milley held a six-hour meeting with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, in Helsinki and said that dialogue between the two adversaries could help de-escalate a future crisis.
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