U.S. military leaders testify in front of Senate committee

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (center), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (left) and Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie (right) testify during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building September 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (center), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (left) and Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie (right) testify during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building September 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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UPDATED 8:03 PM PT – Monday, September 27, 2021

Top U.S. military leaders were grilled on Capitol Hill over their roles in the Afghanistan crisis. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Secretary of the Department of Defense Lloyd Austin and CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie.

“I want to emphasize, all of us here, everyone of us answers to the American people,” asserted Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “They deserve transparency and information regarding the administration’s botched and disgraceful withdrawal.”

Senators from both sides agreed the withdrawal from Afghanistan was handled ineffectively by putting the lives of American troops in Jeopardy and diminishing America’s strategic position in the region. However, the military heads argued they prepared for every possible outcome, except for an immediate collapse of the Afghan army and the rapid power shift leaning toward the Taliban.

“In terms of specific planning, especially with respect to NEO, we planned for a contested environment or an uncontested environment, requirement to evacuate a moderate amount of people versus a large amount of people,” Austin stated. “There was a range of possibilities that we addressed.”

Republicans in the upper chamber didn’t buy the defense as they pointed to the 13 dead American service members and mounting threats from the Taliban. Several senators also took aim at the administration’s move to evacuate the military from the country before getting out civilians with ties to the U.S. government.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.): “General Milley, let me direct this to you, did you ever advise in the interagency process that the rapid withdrawal timeline that the White House and Pentagon signed off on, General Miller proposed, effectively getting us to zero by the middle of July, that that would negatively impact any effort to get out our civilians? 

General Milley: “Yeah, but it’s more complicated than that.”

In addition, General Milley tried to direct blame at the Intelligence community. He claimed there were many Intelligence reports pointing to a possible overtake by the Taliban happening in 2022 at the latest.

However, he added none of the assessments estimated the Afghan government would fall within 11 days in August. The top general affirmed the Biden White House used the low threat prediction to set the withdrawal date to August 31.

“Is the Intel assessments had two basic things in my view, was the scale and scope plus the speed. All the Intel assessments, all of us, got that wrong,” Milley expressed. “There’s no question about it. That was a swing and miss of the Intel assessment of 11 days in August. There was nobody who called that.”

Hawley pointed out throughout the crisis, the Biden administration was talking out of both sides of their mouths by saying everything was under control when the situation was actually chaotic. He added he believed this strategy was employed to cultivate a positive image to the press.

“At the same time we had a rapidly deteriorating, frankly disastrous situation in Afghanistan, which resulted in the death of 13 soldiers including one from my own state,” Hawley asserted. “…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.”

Meanwhile, the military leaders vowed to pick up the pieces of the failed withdrawal and set their sights on combating the increasing threat of transnational terrorist activity.

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