Top Pentagon military official defends phone call to counterpart in China, who he says was concerned about a possible US attack
General Milley and others defended the troop shortage last month, admitting that the operation did not go as planned. He and General McKenzie said they preferred to keep thousands of American troops in the country until the war’s final days.
“From an operational and strategic standpoint, [the evacuation] was successful. Strategically, the war was lost. The enemy is in Kabul,” said General Milley, the highest-ranking Pentagon official to publicly make such a critical assessment of the American effort. At another point, he said of the withdrawal, “It was a logical success.” But it was a strategic failure.”
Mr Biden, a Democrat, called the pullout an “extraordinary success” and defended the decision to end the war as a choice between dropping or committing additional forces for several more years in the 20-year conflict. .
Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and several other Republicans on the panel categorically rejected the outcome of the withdrawal and Mr. Biden’s advice to the generals, questioning why General Milley did not resign in protest.
General Milley said, “It would be an act of unbelievable disobedience for a commissioned officer to resign simply because my advice is not followed.” “This country doesn’t want the generals to know what orders we’re going to accept and what we do. That’s not our job.”
Tuesday’s Senate testimony came in two highly anticipated hearings on the drawdown from Afghanistan, with the House in session scheduled for Wednesday. It marked the first time that key Defense Department officials overseeing the withdrawal have testified since the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15 and the US left the country two weeks later.
Senators focused as much on their questions as on Mr Biden’s initial decision in April to end the war by pulling out all troops – a deal negotiated by his predecessor, then-President Donald Trump – as well as the eventual withdrawal of forces. But, during which a suicide-bombing attack killed 13 Americans and about 200 Afghans. Some senators expressed dismay with the number of Americans – which Mr Austin put at less than 100 – and the thousands of Afghan allies left behind.
Lawmakers asked what Pentagon officials had recommended to Biden and how many soldiers they thought should remain. Military leaders declined to share the exact details of what the president told the president, but said they supported leaving a contingent of at least 2,500 troops in the country to prevent the collapse of his government and military.
This angered Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, a former Marine, who asked why Mr. Biden said no. An interview with ABC News Last month, when military leaders believed the troops should stay, they did not receive any recommendations on retaining a contingent of troops in Afghanistan.
“I think we all know it was a false statement,” Sullivan said.
Mr Sullivan also pressed officials over the failures in Afghanistan, including the August 29 drone attack that accidentally killed 10 Afghans, including seven children.
“You have been part of an institution where accountability is important, and the American people respect that, up and down the chain,” he said. “But on this matter – the biggest national security crisis in a generation – there has been zero accountability, no one’s responsibility.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to testimony that Mr Biden was presented with “a range of perspectives” and had asked his national security advisers not to “chinoicoat” his recommendations. He declined to elaborate on the personal conversations he had with the president.
Defending the withdrawal, Mr Austin said the US was prepared to evacuate thousands of people from Hamid Karzai International Airport during the collapse of the Afghan government and military. He said that America stood among the allies after the end of the war.
General Milley was less optimistic, saying that the US may have been too optimistic about the stability of the Afghan forces it trained and did not properly prepare them to operate independently of American personnel. Asked if America’s credibility has suffered, he said, “Damage” is a word that can be used.
Six months will need to pass, he said, before the US can assess whether al Qaeda or other terrorist groups will re-emerge in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the US. “The war on terror is not over, and in Afghanistan. The war is not over,” said General Mackenzie.
US officials are scrambling to find places to base drones and other aircraft to maintain surveillance and airstrikes capability after withdrawal from Afghanistan. Senators asked about a Wall Street Journal report that said General Milley had discussed a Russian offer of his Central Asian bases with his Russian counterpart last week. Mr Austin confirmed the exchange but declined to provide details.
General Milley has drawn criticism for actions taken in the last months of the Trump administration, including two calls with his Chinese counterpart at a time of tension within China about US intentions. He defended his conduct at Tuesday’s hearing, telling lawmakers that calls to China in October and January, along with other government agencies, were accompanied by top Pentagon officials including then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and later Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller. was synced. .
After the January 8 call, General Milley said, he personally informed then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Several Republican lawmakers have said that the talks, during which General Milley sought to address concerns in Beijing, destroyed civilian control of the military.
General Milley said in his prepared testimony, “I know—I’m sure—President Trump did not intend to attack China, and it is my directed responsibility to convey the President’s order and intent.” “My job at that time was to de-escalate. My message was again consistent: ‘Calm, steady, de-escalate. We are not going to attack you. “
The calls surfaced in reporting from “Peril,” a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Critics have said General Milley was trying to polish his legacy by talking to writers who wrote books on the Trump administration. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) about such discussions, General Milley said during the hearing that he had spoken with Mr. Woodward as well as the authors of two other books: “Truth Say, We Won This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Journal reporter Michael C. Bender, and “I Alone Can Fix It,” by Carol Leonig and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.
As the hearing progressed, some Republican senators suggested that General Milley should have spent more time preparing for the US exit from Afghanistan than talking to reporters.
General Milley said the time spent briefing the media is part of his job. He said he could not say whether the books portrayed him correctly.
“I haven’t read the books so I don’t know,” he said.