Republicans have intensified their criticisms of President Joe Biden's decision not to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by August 30, claiming that it made the U.S. vulnerable to terrorist attacks. They want more information on the suicide bombing that claimed 13 lives in Kabul during the withdrawal's final days.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Gen. Mark Milley (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), will testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee. As head of Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie will also testify.
James Inhofe, Oklahoma's Senate ranking Republican, has asked the Pentagon a long list of questions about many aspects of the withdrawal. This includes the suicide bombing at Kabul's international Airport on Aug. 26, which killed 169 Afghans and wounded dozens of American servicemen. As it became clear that the Taliban had overtaken U.S-backed Afghan forces, he is also seeking information on decision-making during the summer.
Inhofe last week wrote that "We need an accounting of every decision and factor that has led us to where are now and a plan for defending America moving ahead."
The longest U.S. war ended with the withdrawal. Some Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration argue that President Donald Trump is partly to blame for ending the war in victory by the Taliban. His administration had signed a 2020 deal with the Taliban that promised an American complete withdrawal by May 2021. They also pointed out the years-long U.S. failure in Afghanistan to create a strong military capable of resisting the Taliban.
This is not a Republican or Democratic problem. These failures have been manifesting themselves over four presidential administrations from both political parties," Senator Jack Reed, D.R.I., stated the day after the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15.
While Tuesday's hearing was originally scheduled to be about Afghanistan, it will likely touch on other topics, such as Milley's actions in the last months of Trump's presidency.
Milley has been accused by some in Congress of being disloyal for what "Peril" by Bob Woodward, Robert Costa and Robert Costa reported as assurances to a Chinese general, that the U.S. did not plan to attack China and that, if it did so, Milley would warn him in advanced. Milley refused to provide details in the days that followed the publication of the book's reports. Instead, he told reporters that he would answer Congress directly. Milley's only comment was that the calls with Chinese officials were routine and part of his job duties and responsibilities.
Austin and Milley both defended the U.S. military's withdrawal from Afghanistan that Biden had ordered in April. Although the pullout was completed in large part by July 1, several hundred troops remained in Kabul along with some defensive equipment to safeguard a U.S. diplomat presence in the capital. Initial statements by the State Department stated that diplomats would be allowed to remain in Kabul after the military withdrawal. However, President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan and the Taliban took control, prompting a chaotic evacuation.
While the Pentagon has supported its execution of an Airlift from Kabul Airport that carried more than 120,000 passengers, it acknowledged that it was chaotic and that terrorist attacks were a constant threat.
"The Biden administration’s avalanche incompetence has damaged America's international reputation and embarrassed the United States on a world stage," said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Iowa, both Republicans. "Yet our president and secretary-of-state continue to pretend that Afghanistan's withdrawal was a historic success."
Cotton and others have questioned the viability of U.S. plans to contain al-Qaida and the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate by using intelligence-collection assets and attack planes based outside of Afghanistan.