Sep 29, 2021
Military Leaders, Gen. Milley Testify on Afghanistan Exit: Full House Hearing Transcript September 29
Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during a House hearing on September 29, 2021. Read the transcript of the hearing below.
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Chairman Smith: (00:00)
… via the television slash internet feeds. Members participating remotely must seek recognition verbally, and they are asked to mute their microphones when they are not speaking. Members who are participating remotely are reminded to keep the software platform video function on the entire time they attend the proceeding. Members may leave and rejoin the proceeding. If members depart for a short while, for reasons other than joining different proceeding, they should leave the video function on. If members will be absent for a significant period or depart to join a different proceeding, they should exit the software platform entirely and then rejoin it if they return. Members may use the software platform’s chat feature to communicate with staff regarding technical or logistical support issues only. Finally, I have designated a committee staff member to, if necessary mute unrecognized member’s microphones to cancel any inadvertent background noise that may disrupt the proceeding.
Chairman Smith: (00:49)
Thank you. Good morning. I’d like to welcome our witnesses here today. We have the honorable Lloyd Austin III, secretary of defense, General Mark Miley, chairman joint chief of staff and General Frank McKenzie, commander US Central Commander. I want to thank them for the time today as they provide an update on the issues surrounding the end of the US military mission in Afghanistan and our mission going forward, dealing with counter terrorism in south Asia and the continuing mission to try to get as many Afghans and any remaining Americans out of the country. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a very important policy to discussion. At the center of our examination of the US military mission in Afghanistan is the desire to learn from our 20 year involvement there. We must have an open and honest analysis of everything that went into that, not just the events of the last year or six months. But before getting into that, we should take a moment to recognize the service of the over 800,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.
Chairman Smith: (01:47)
More importantly, I would like to remember and honor, the 261 who made the ultimate sacrifice along with the over 20,000, who bore the physical wounds of war and those who bear the unseen wounds of war. While we will vigorously debate policy decisions to the US military mission in Afghanistan. I believe that I speak for the entire committee when we express our gratitude to those and their families who have sacrificed so much over those last 20 years. We owe them a debt that cannot be repaid. I agreed and continue to agree with the decision that was made to end our military presence in Afghanistan. It was decision. Our larger mission to help build a government in Afghanistan that could govern effectively and defeat the Taliban had failed. More money and more lost American lives were not going to change that. The events we witnessed in Afghanistan and the wake of the collapse of the Afghan government in August happened primarily because of reality, because of the fundamental reality that our mission to try to stand up a government in place of the Taliban had failed.
Chairman Smith: (02:51)
That reality is what caused the overwhelming majority of the problems that we faced. There was no easy or safe way to get everyone out of that country we wanted to get out. Yet in the face of that, our military conducted the largest human airlift in history, in coordination with the rest of the interagency and our allies evacuating over 120,000 people. This evacuation, however, did not come without costs. We lost 13 US service members in dozens of innocent, AF it’s due to ISIS-K’s attack at the Abbey on August 26th. There was also a tragic mistake on August 29, when a drone strike killed as many as 10 civilians. Following this mistake, I and others expect to be provided with the results of the timely, comprehensive and transparent investigation of this tragedy, including accountability measures and any changes of procedures that are deemed necessary. Importantly, our work is not done as there are more who remain in Afghanistan who would like to leave, and we must work to ensure the interagency has all the tools required and is coordinated to assist those remaining individuals.
Chairman Smith: (03:55)
There are some going, back to the issue of whether or not we should have left Afghanistan, who imagined that there was sort of a middle option that we could have kept 2,500 troops there in a relatively peaceful and stable environment. I think the way that option has been presented by many of the critics has been fundamentally disingenuous. The option of keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a peaceful and stable environment did not exist. I have heard many compare this to the troops that we have left in South Korea and Japan. I find that analogy just completely idiotic, if I’m being honest. In South Korea and Japan, we are not under attack. We are there as a deterrent. In Afghanistan, we would have been under attack. And that is the fundamental fact that too many people are forgetting.
Chairman Smith: (04:41)
The peace agreement that was signed by the previous president was based on a requirement that we get all of our troops out by May 1st. That’s the only reason that the Taliban had not attacked us in the previous 18 months. Once that expired, once we said, “Nope, we’re staying.” They would have been under attack. And this has been the subject of a huge misunderstanding in the last 24 hours that again, I find very, very disingenuous. People are saying that the president said nobody offered, no one said that we should keep 2,500 there. And what the president actually said was there was no option on the table to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a stable environment. That’s what he said. Not that no one presented that option, that option didn’t exist in reality, and no one presented it. The president in fact, made it clear earlier in that same interview that yes, some of his military leaders had said that we should keep 2,500 troops there.
Chairman Smith: (05:38)
What he said was none of them said that we could do it in a stable, peaceful environment. And that is the key point. The other key point is, and I know a lot of energy will be expended today trying to get these gentlemen to admit that they didn’t agree with the president’s decision. First of all, I’d never engage in that exercise, because I believe the president, Democrat, Republican, no matter who it is deserves the unabridged advice of his or her commanders. You can’t give that if you’re then going to have to go out in public and talk about it. But second of all, the president is the one in charge. This is ultimately what civilian control of the military means. And what I believe is I believe certainly there were military commanders who said, “No we should stick it out. We should keep the 2,500 there.”
Chairman Smith: (06:19)
I think they were wrong, and so did the president. It’s not that they didn’t make the advice, it’s that they were wrong. This committee has an enormous amount of respect for our military leadership. That does not mean that the military leadership is incapable of being wrong. And over the course of the last 20 years in Afghanistan, I would’ve thought we would’ve learned that lesson. President Biden had the courage to finally make the decision to say, “No, we are not succeeding in this mission. Placing more American lives at risk will not change that.” If we could credibly say if we just stuck it out for another year, another five, another 10 and got to a better result, that’d be a difficult call, was that worth the risk? But we can’t credibly say that. So we would’ve been putting American lives at risk for a mission that we had to know was not achievable.
Chairman Smith: (07:05)
The president made the right call on that. There is the issue of how we withdrew and I will say, and I’ve been critical of this. I think the effort to get the SIVs and the others who wanted to get out of Afghanistan, certainly could have been handled better and could have been started sooner. It certainly seemed rushed, and I want to hear from our leaders today about how that played out. But again, let’s remember that the other alternative was not easy. The alternative of let’s start pulling people out sooner, the Ghani government, the government that was in charge of Afghanistan at the time we would’ve been doing this was adamantly opposed to us pulling all of the military equipment and hundreds of thousands of their Afghan supporters out for obvious reasons.
Chairman Smith: (07:45)
How would we have done that against the objection of the existing Afghan government while the Taliban were rolling across the countryside? It would not have been easy no matter how it was done, but we do deserve an accounting for how those who are made forward, I think today is an excellent opportunity to do that. I look forward to the questions and answers as well as the testimony of our witnesses. And with that, I yield to the ranking member Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers: (08:11)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. And while I have great admiration from my friend, the chairman, I could not disagree more with his observation about Afghanistan and the president’s decision. The fact is our coalition partners and our military leadership felt that we should have maintained our 2,500 troops there, along with this roughly 7,500, 8,000 coalition troops and the thousands of contractors that the Afghan army dependent upon to fight successfully. And I think they could have continued as they have in past years to fight valiantly, had we given that support and the president had listened to his general’s advice. But regardless of how you feel about the decision to remove troops from Afghanistan, I think we can all agree that the withdrawal was an unmitigated disaster. Hundreds of Americans were left behind, thousands of Afghan allies stuck with little hope of escape, potentially billions worth of US provided military equipment, now in the hands of the Taliban.
Mr. Rogers: (09:12)
Thousands of hardened Al-Qaeda and I ISIS terrorists freed from prisons. 10 innocent Afghans, including seven children killed in a botched airstrike. But worst of all, 13 brave American service members were murdered by a coward in a suicide vest. What’s more infuriating is that all this could have been avoided if the president had planed. In briefings and hearings since April, we’ve demanded to know a plan to A, safely evacuate Americans and Afghan allies and B, conduct counter-terrorism operations. For four months, the response from the Biden administration was, “We’re working on it.” Now it’s clear, they never had a plan. The president repeatedly assured the American people that the Taliban takeover was not inevitable, that we had plenty of time to safely evacuate Americans and Afghan allies, that this was not going to be a fall like Saigon.
Mr. Rogers: (10:07)
As late as August 19th, the president promised us that if there’s an American citizen left, we’re going to stay to get them all out. Now it’s clear. The president has misled us more than once. On August 31st hundreds of Americans left behind, and 13 service members murdered, the president stood in the east room of the white house and called the withdrawal, “An extraordinary success.” I fear the president is delusional. This wasn’t an extraordinary success, it was an extraordinary disaster. It will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership. We’re here today to get answers on how the hell this happened. I expect our witnesses to give us an honest accounting of exactly what went wrong. I also want answers on how we’re going to conduct counter terrorism operations now that we have zero presence in Afghanistan. This was the first question we ask you in April and we still don’t have an answer.
Mr. Rogers: (11:01)
According to the latest intelligence assessment, it could be as little as 12 months before Al-Qaeda will use Afghanistan as a base to conduct strikes against the United States, and that’s unacceptable. And this talk of over the horizon cap ability is a farce. Sure, we can send a drone out to take out a terrace, but we didn’t know where the terrorists are. Without persistent ISR capabilities or reliable intelligence on the ground, that’s impossible. We have neither of those now.
Mr. Rogers: (11:34)
It doesn’t help that we need to fly that drone nearly 1600 miles to reach Afghanistan, leaving little time on station, or that we have to fly over Pakistan, an ally of the Taliban who could revoke over flight privileges at any time. None of this is giving us much confidence that this administration can successfully conduct counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. We want to know what capabilities we need, where they will be based and how they’ll be used. In other words, we want to see a plan and we want to see it today, because frankly, after this debacle of a withdrawal, I don’t think anyone can trust anything this president says about Afghanistan. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Chairman Smith: (12:16)
Mr. Secretary, you are recognized.
Secretary Austin: (12:20)
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rogers, members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss our recent draw down in evacuation operations in Afghanistan. I’m pleased to be joined by generals Miley and McKenzie, who I know will be able to provide you with additional context. I am incredibly proud of the men and women of the US armed forces who conducted themselves with tremendous skill and professionalism throughout the war, the draw down and the evacuation. Over the course of our nation’s longest war 2,461 of our fellow Americans made the ultimate sacrifice along with more than 20,000, who still bear the wounds of war, some of which cannot be seen on the outside. Now we can discuss and debate the decisions, the policies, and the turning points since April of this year, when the president made clear his intent to end American involvement in this war, and we can debate this decisions over the last 20 years that led us to this point.
Secretary Austin: (13:26)
But the one thing not open to debate is the courage and compassion of our service members, who along with their families, served and sacrificed to ensure that our homeland would never again be attacked the way it was on September 11th, 2001. I had the chance to speak with many of them during my trip to the Gulf region a few weeks ago, including the Marines who lost 11 of their teammates at the Abbey gate in Kabul on the 26th of August. I’ve never been more humbled and inspired. They are rightfully proud of what they accomplished and the lives they saved in such a short period of time. The reason that our troops were able to get there so quickly is because we planned for just such a contingency. We began thinking about the possibilities for a non-combatant evacuation as for are back as the spring. By late April two weeks after the president’s decision, military planners had crafted a number of evacuation scenarios.
Secretary Austin: (14:26)
In mid-May, I ordered CENTCOM to make preparations for a potential non-combatant evacuation operation. And two weeks later, I began pre-positioning for horses in the region to include three infantry battalions. On the 10th of August, we ran another tabletop exercise around a non-combatant evacuation scenario. We wanted to be ready, and we were. By the time that the State Department called for the NEO, significant numbers of additional forces had already arrived in Afghanistan, including leading elements of the 24th Marine expeditionary unit who were already on the ground in Kabul. Before that weekend was out another 3000 or so, ground troops had arrived, including elements of the 82nd Airborne. To be clear, those first two days were difficult. We all watched with alarm the images of Afghans rushing the runway and our aircraft. We all remember the scene of confusion.
Chairman Smith: (15:29)
Sorry, we’ll get that under control. Go ahead, sir.
Secretary Austin: (15:32)
Outside the airport, but within 48 hours, our troops restored order and the process began to take hold. Our soldiers, airmen and Marines and partnership with our allies, our partners, and our State Department colleagues secured the gates, took control of the airport operations and set up a processing system for the tens thousands of people that they would be manifesting onto airplanes.
Secretary Austin: (15:55)
They and our commanders exceeded all expectations. We planned to evacuate between 70,000 and 80,000 people. They evacuated more than 124,000 people. We planned to move between 5,000 and 9,000 people per day, and on average, they move slightly more than 7,000 people per day. On military aircraft alone, we flew more than 387 sorties, averaging nearly 23 per day. And at the height of this operation, an aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes and not a single sortie was missed for maintenance, fuel or logistical problems. It was the largest airlift conducted in US history and it was executed in just 17 days. Was it perfect? Of course not. We moved so many people so quickly out of Kabul that we ran into capacity and screen problems at intermediate staging bases outside of Afghanistan. And we’re still working to get Americans out who wish to leave. We did not get out all of our Afghan allies enrolled in a special immigrant visa program, and we take that seriously. And that’s why we’re working across the interagency to continue facilitating their departure, and even with no military presence on the ground, that part of our mission is not over. And tragically lives were also lost. Several Afghans killed climbing a board in aircraft on that first day, 13 brave US service members and dozens of Afghan civilians killed in a terrorist attack on the 26th. And we took as many as 10 innocent lives in a drone strike on the 29th. Non-combatant evacuations remained among the most challenging military operations, even in the best of circumstances. And the circumstances in August were anything but ideal. Extreme heat, a landlocked country, no government, a highly dynamic situation on the ground and an active, credible and lethal terrorist threat. In the span of just two days, from August 13th to August 15th, we went from working alongside a democratically elected long term partner government to coordinating rarely with a long time enemy. We operated in a deeply dangerous environment and it proved a lesson in pragmatism and professionalism. We also learned a lot of other lessons too, like how about how her in an air force base in Katar to an international airport overnight and about how to rapidly screen, process and manifest large numbers of people. Nothing like this has ever been done before, and no other military in the world could have pulled it off and I think that’s crucial. And I know that members of this committee will have on many things, such as why we turned over Bagram airfield and how real our over the horizon capability is and why we didn’t start evacuations sooner and why we didn’t stay longer to get more people out.
Secretary Austin: (19:04)
So let me take each in turn. Retaining Bagram would’ve required putting as many its 5,000 US troops in harms way just to operate and defend it. And it would’ve contributed little to the mission that we had been assigned, and that was to protect and defend the embassy, which was some 30 miles away. And that distance from Kabul also rendered Bagram of little value in the evacuation. So staying at Bagram, even for counter terrorism purposes meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do.
Secretary Austin: (19:38)
And as for over the horizon operations, when we use that term, we refer to assets and target analysis that come from outside the country in which the operation occurs. These are effective and fairly common operations. And just days ago we conducted one such strike in Syria, eliminating a senior Al-Qaeda figure. Over the horizon operations are difficult, but absolutely possible. And the intelligence that supports them comes from a variety of sources and not just US boots on the ground. As for when we started evacuations, we offered input to the State Department’s decision, mindful of their concerns that moving too soon might actually cause the very collapse of the Afghan government that we all wanted to avoid. And that moving too would put our people and our operations at greater risk. As I said, the fact that our troops were on the ground so quickly is due in large part to our planning and pre-positioning of forces. As for the missions end, my judgment remains that extending beyond the end of August would’ve greatly imperiled our people in our mission. 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. So staying longer than we did would’ve made it even more dangerous for our people and would’ve not have significantly changed the number of evacuee we could get out. So as we consider these tactical issues today, we must also ask ourselves some equally tough questions about the wider war itself and pause to think about the lessons that we’ve learned over the past 20 years.
Secretary Austin: (21:27)
Did we have the right strategy? Did we have too many strategies? Did we put too much faith in our ability to build effective Afghan institutions, an army in air force, a police force and government ministries? We helped build the state, but we could not for a nation. And the fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away in many cases, without firing a shot, took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise. We need to consider some uncomfortable truths, that we did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in their senior ranks. That we did not grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by president Ghani of his commanders, that we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement. That the Doha agreement itself had a demo effect on Afghan soldiers. And that we failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which, and for whom many of the Afghan forces would fight. We provided the Afghan military with equipment and aircraft and the skills to use them. And over the years, they often fought bravely, and tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police officers died. But in the end, we couldn’t provide them with the will to win, at least not all of them. And as a veteran of that war, I am personally reckoning with all of that. But I hope as I said, at the outset that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride in the way that our people fought it.
Secretary Austin: (23:10)
They prevented another 9/11, they showed extraordinary courage and compassion in the war’s last days, they made lasting progress in Afghanistan that the Taliban will find difficult to reverse and that the international community should work hard to preserve. And now our service members and civilians face a new mission, helping these Afghan evacuees move on to new lives and new places. And they are performing that one magnificently as well. And I spent some time with some of them up at joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst this past Monday. And I know that you share my profound gratitude and respect for their service, their courage and professionalism, and I appreciate the support that this committee continues to provide them and their families. Thank you.
Chairman Smith: (23:59)
General Milley: (24:02)
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rogers, thank you for the opportunity to be here with Secretary Austin and General McKenzie discuss Afghanistan. During the past 20 years, the men and women of the United States military, along with our allies and partners fought the Taliban, brought Osama bin Laden to justice, denied Al-Qaeda sanctuary and protected our homeland for two consecutive decades. Over 800,000 of us in uniform served in Afghanistan. Most importantly, 2,461 US soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines paid the ultimate price. 20,698 were wounded in action and countless others suffer the invisible wounds of war. There’s no doubt in my mind that our efforts prevented an attack on the homeland from Afghanistan, which was our core mission. And everyone, everyone who ever served in that war in Afghanistan should be proud, your service mattered. beginning in 2011, we steadily drew down our troop numbers, consolidated and closed bases and retrograded equipment from Afghanistan.
General Milley: (25:17)
At our peak in 2011, we had 97,000 US troops alongside 41,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. 10 years later, when Ambassador [inaudible 00:25:30] signed the Doha agreement with Mullah Baradar on 29, February, 2020, the United States had 12,600 troops with 8,000 NATO and 10,500 contractors in Afghanistan. This has been a 10 year multi administration draw down, not a 19 month retrograde or 17 day non-combatant evacuation operation. Under the Doha agreement, the United States would begin to withdraw its forces contingent upon the Taliban meeting certain conditions, which would lead to a political agreement between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan. There were seven conditions applicable to the Taliban and eight to the United States. While the Taliban did not attack the United States forces, which was one of the conditions, it failed to fully honor any other condition under the Doha agreement. And perhaps most importantly, for the United States national security, the Taliban has never renounced their linkages with Al Qaeda or broke their affiliation with them.
General Milley: (26:33)
We, the United States adhered to every condition. In the fall of 2020, my analysis then was that an accelerated withdrawal without meeting specific and necessary conditions risks losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, would potentially damage US worldwide credibility and could precipitate a general collapse of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government, resulting in a complete Taliban takeover or a general civil war. That analysis was a year ago. Based on my advice and the advice of the commanders at the time, then Secretary of Defense Esper submitted a memorandum on nine November recommending that we maintain the US forces, which were then at about 4,500 in Afghanistan until conditions were met for further reductions. Two days later on 11 November, I received an unclassified signed order directing the United States military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by 15 January, 2021. After further discussion regarding the risks associated with such a withdrawal, all the order was rescinded. On 17 November, we received a new order to reduce troop levels to 2,500 plus enabling forces no later than 15 January.
General Milley: (27:54)
When President Biden was inaugurated, there were approximately 3,500 US troops, 5,400 NATO and 6,300 contractors in Afghanistan, tasked to train, advise and assist a small contingent of counter terrorism forces. And the strategic situation was stalemate. The Biden administration through the national security council process conducted a rigorous interagency review of the situation in Afghanistan and February, March, and April. During this process, the views of all of the joint chief of staff, all of us, the CENTCOM commander, General McKenzie, US48 Commander General Miller and myself were all given serious consideration by the administration. We provided a broad range of options and our assessment of their potential outcomes. We couched that in cost, benefit, risk to force, risk to mission, all of that was evaluated against the national security objectives of the United States.
General Milley: (28:52)
On 14 April, the President of the United States, President Biden announced his decision and the US military received a change of mission to retrograde all US military forces maintained a small contingency forces to 700 to protect the embassy in Kabul until the Department of State could coordinate contractor security sport and also to assist Turkey to maintain the Hamid Karzai International Airport and to transition the US mission to over the horizon counterterrorism sport and security force assistance. It is clear, it is a obvious to all of us that the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms that we wanted, with the Taliban now in power in Kabul. Although the NEO was unprecedented and is the largest air evacuation in history, and was a tactical, operational and logistical success, evacuating 124,000 people, the war was a strategic failure. It came also at an incredible cost in the end with 11 Marines, one soldier and a Navy corpsman. These 13 gave their lives so that people they never met, would’ve an opportunity to live in freedom.
General Milley: (30:05)
And we must remember that the Taliban was and remains a terrorist organization, and they still have not broken with Al Qaeda. I have no illusions who we are dealing with. It remains to be seen whether or not the Taliban can consolidate power, or if the country will further fracture into civil war, but we must continue to protect the United States, America and its people from terrorist attacks from Afghanistan. A reconstituted Al-Qaeda or ISIS with aspirations to attack the United States is a very real possibility. And those conditions to include activity in uncovered spaces could present themselves in the next 12 of to 36 months.
General Milley: (30:43)
That mission will be much harder now, but not impossible, and we will continue to protect the American people. Strategic decisions have strategic consequences. Over the course of four presidents, 12 secretaries of defense, seven chairman, 10 CENTCOM commanders, and 20 commanders in Afghanistan and hundreds of congressional delegation visits in 20 years of congressional oversight, there are many lessons to be learned. Among those lessons is the unprecedented speed of the collapse of the NSF. However, one lesson we can never forget is that every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine who served there for 20 years protected our country against attack from terrorists. And for that, we all should be forever grateful and those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines should be forever proud.
General Milley: (31:35)
Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I’d like to address a couple of comments about my personal conduct that’s been in the media lately.
Chairman Smith: (31:41)
Yes, yes. Mr. Chairman, you may go ahead.
General Milley: (31:45)
I’ve served this nation for 42 years. I’ve spent years in combat and buried a lot of my troops who died while defending this country. My loyalty to this nation, its people and the constitution hasn’t changed and will never change as long as I have a breath to give. My loyalty to the constitution and to this nation is absolute and I will not turn my back on my fallen. With respect to the Chinese calls, I routinely communicated with my counterpart General Lee with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese by Department of Defense guidance in a document known as the policy dialogue system. These military to military communications at the highest levels are critical to the security of the United States in order to deconflict military actions, manage crisis and prevent war between great powers armed with nuclear weapons. The calls on 30 October and eight January were coordinated before and after with Secretary Esper and Acting Secretary Miller’s staffs, and the interagency.
General Milley: (32:52)
The specific purpose of the October and January calls was generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe that Chinese were worried about an attack by the United States. And last night, I briefed that intelligence in detail to the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I’ll be happy to brief it to any member or group of members at your discretion in a classified session. And I know, and I am certain President Trump did not intend on the Chinese and it is my directed responsibility by the Secretary Defense to convey that intent. My task at that time was to deescalate. My message was again, consistent, calm, steady, deescalate, “We’re not going to attack you.” At Secretary of Defense Esper’s direction, I made a call to General Lee on 30 October. Eight people sat in that call with me and I read out the call within 30 minutes of the call ending.
General Milley: (33:48)
On 31 December, the Chinese requested a call with me. The Department’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia Pacific policy helped coordinate my call, which was then scheduled for eight January. And he made a preliminary call on six January. 11 people attended the call with me and readouts of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day. On 14 December, then acting Secretary of Defense Miller had been briefed on the entire program. Shortly after my call ended with General Lee, I informed both Secretary of State, Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Meadows about the call among several other topics. Soon after that, I attended a meeting with acting Secretary Miller, where I briefed him on the call. Later that same day on eight January, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called me to inquire about the president its ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process. She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch of thought, but he doesn’t launch them alone-
General Milley: (35:03)
… nuclear launch authority, but he doesn’t launch them alone. And that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States. There are processes, protocols, and procedures in place. And I repeatedly assured her there was no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch of nuclear weapons. The presidential directive and SecDef directives, the chairman is part of this process to ensure that the president is fully informed when determining the use of the world’s deadliest weapons. By law, I am not in the chain of command and I know that. However, by presidential directive and Department of Defense instruction signed by the president and secretaries of defense, I am in the chain of communication to fulfill my legal statutory role as the president’s primary military adviser. After the Speaker Pelosi call, I convened a short meeting in my office with key members of my staff to refresh all of us on these procedures which we practice three times a day at the action officer level.
General Milley: (36:07)
Additionally, I immediately informed Acting Secretary Defense Miller of her call. At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command. But I am expected to give my advice and ensure the president is fully informed on military affairs. I am submitting for the record and I believe you have it a couple of memorandums for record in addition to detailed timelines. And I am happy to discuss in further detail in either classified or unclassified sessions with any or all of you about my actions surrounding these events. I welcome a thorough walkthrough. I’ll be happy to provide whatever documents, phone logs, emails, memoranda, witnesses, or anything else you want that’ll help you understand these events.
General Milley: (36:56)
My oath is to support the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And I will never turn my back on that oath. I firmly believe in civilian control of the military as a bedrock principle and essential to the health of this republic. And I’m committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics. Thank you chairman for the extra time and I look forward to your questions.
Chairman Smith: (37:18)
Thank you. Excuse me. General McKenzie.
Gen. McKenzie: (37:23)
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rogers, distinguished members of the committee, thanks for the opportunity to testify about recent events in Afghanistan. As the theater commander, I will confine my opening remarks to those matters that were under my direct operational control, specifically the withdrawal of US forces and the subsequent non-combatant evacuation operation. These were two distinct combat missions, both conducted in contact with the enemy. We had a plan for each of them. We executed those plans. And thanks to the valor and dedication of thousands of men and women in harm’s way, we completed both missions, fulfilling the president’s order to withdraw all us forces and evacuating over 124,000 non-combatants from Afghanistan. I last appeared before this body only days after President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all US forces from that country. And my testimony regarding that decision is already a matter of public record.
Gen. McKenzie: (38:17)
I’ll only reiterate that I had an opportunity to offer my professional advice to the president through the secretary and I am confident that he weighed it carefully. That’s all any commander can ask. Once the president made his decision, my headquarters and that of US Forces Afghanistan under General Scott Miller made the withdrawal of our forces our top priority. We did this in close coordination with our allies and partners. Every departure of every element was carefully synchronized across the coalition and with our Afghan partners. On no occasion where they caught unaware by our movements. Every base was handed off to Afghan forces according to a mutually understood plan. This is particularly true of Bagram Airfield. Many of you have visited Bagram at some point over the past 20 years and were probably struck by two of its defining features, its sprawling size and its isolation.
Gen. McKenzie: (39:08)
Virtues for most of its lifespan, they rendered it untenable under the circumstances. The guidance I received in April was to conduct a complete withdrawal of US combat forces and plan for a diplomatic security force of absolutely no more than 650 service members. It was not feasible to preserve the US embassy in Kabul, hold and defend Hamid Karzai International Airport, the embassies key linked to the outside world and also defend Bagram Airfield with 650 soldiers and Marines. This is important, the Bagram option went away when we were ordered to reduce our presence to the 650 personnel in Kabul. I’d like to shift briefly to the NEO, which as I have noted was a completely different operation than a withdrawal. They were separate. The withdrawal began in April following the president’s direction. The decision to conduct the NEO rested with the Department of State and they made that decision on 14 August. In our NEO planning central command assumed that we would have to bring out a very large number of people.
Gen. McKenzie: (40:10)
We did not regard the size of a potential NEO as overwhelming or too much to accomplish. We did not regard a Taliban takeover as inevitable, but neither did we rule it out. And we identified critical indicators of an impending collapse of the Afghan National Defense Forces. We crafted branches to our base plan to account for a complete collapse of the Afghan security forces. The secretary took action in May to make forces available to me for planning. On July the ninth I requested that our base NEO force, the core package that would go in, be put on 96 hour prepared to deploy orders. By August 11th it was evident to me that Kabul was at risk and I requested the deployment of a brigade of the 82nd Airborne division and other elements of our own alert pre-planned force package. And I requested that they be deployed into HKIA, Hamid Karzai International Airfield.
Gen. McKenzie: (41:02)
These forces flowed swiftly into theater, even as the Afghan National Defense Forces disintegrated, allowing thousands of civilians access to the airfield. Working with Afghan partners composed of elite commando units who did not fall apart and our arriving NEO forces on August the 16th, we cleared the airfield and resumed flight operations in a matter of hours. With security re-established by force, ultimately comprising 5,784 US troops, eight maneuver battalions, and hundreds of coalition forces, operations continued without interruption until our final flights. By that time we had evacuated over 124,000 people from Afghanistan. This was a difficult mission made possible by the exceptional professionalism and valor of the joint force on the ground in Afghanistan and across the entire world. I would specifically like to use this opportunity to thank the C-17 crews of the air mobility command for a feet rivaling and exceeding, in fact, the Berlin Airlift. Moments after the last of the final five C-17s lifting off from HKIA, I held a briefing with a Pentagon press Corps and express my gratitude and admiration for the forces who carried out this NEO.
Gen. McKenzie: (42:12)
I also provided various figures that conveyed the magnitude of their accomplishment. I won’t reiterate those figures here and now, but I will say that after the passage of nearly a month, my pride in their accomplishment remains undiminished. I don’t need to tell this body that on 26, August, 11 marines, one sailor and one soldier made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country. We will never forget them. This was a combat operation of the most difficult sort, a non-combatant evacuation carried out in contact with the enemy. The enemy in this case was ISIS Khorasan, a vile tenacious foe that would undoubtedly have killed many, many more Americans and innocent Afghans at HKIA if it were not for the vigilance of our forces there. On 29 August, we undertook an MQ-9 strike against what we thought was an imminent threat to HKIA.
Gen. McKenzie: (43:02)
That strike was a mistake and I take full responsibility for that strike. I was under no pressure from any quarter to conduct the strike. It was based on our intelligence read of the situation on the ground. While in many cases we were right with our intelligence and forestalled ISIS-K attacks, in this case, we were wrong, tragically wrong. I appreciate that there are many other topics of interest to this committee. And I look forward to answering your questions on all of them. I’ll close here by reiterating my profound gratitude and appreciation for every soldier, sailor, marine, airman, and guardian, as well as our intelligence and Department of Defense and Department of State comrades, who contributed to each of these difficult missions. I remain humbled by their sense of duty and courage. Thank you.
Chairman Smith: (43:47)
Thank you. Mr Secretary, I want to drill down a little bit on the keeping 2,500 troops there. And I’m struck as I listen to the comments that I think the real problem here is you have to make decisions in the real world. You don’t get to imagine an outcome that would make it more palatable. And I think that’s what really factored into the 2,500. And as we talk about the 13 service members who died and attacked the leadership here for not having prevented that, how you can do that and advocate that we should have stayed in Afghanistan longer so that more service members… I guess the only way you can advocate that is to imagine a scenario whereby we could have stayed in a chaotic war zone, not had soldiers get killed, not have made any mistakes. How you can not make mistakes in that chaotic environment, I don’t know.
Chairman Smith: (44:38)
And every member serving on this committee has been in those environments in one way or another. So you don’t have the luxury of waving a magic wand and making all the problems go away and simply making a decision where nothing goes wrong. And it’s really frustrating to hear people advocate that we should stay and still decry what happened. Do you think fighting in a war zone, there wouldn’t be similar mistakes if we’d stayed there for another five or 10 years, more civilians killed, accidentally more US service members dead in exactly the same way that we just saw? Sorry, that’s very frustrating, but could you talk to us a little bit about the 2,500 soldiers or, sorry, service members that could have been left there and then how you approach that decision and what exactly, well, not what exactly your advice was to the president for what I said earlier, but how you approached that decision and how you attempt to deal with that while advising the president.
Sec. Austin: (45:34)
Well, first of all, chairman, let me be clear that I support the president’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan. I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever. And let me also say, we’ve talked about the process that we use to provide input to the president. I think that process was a very thorough and inclusive policy process. And the recommendations of the commanders were taken into consideration, discussed and deliberated on throughout that process. As you indicated, I typically… I will always keep my recommendations to the president confidential. But I would say that in my view, there is no and was no risk-free status quo option. I think that the Taliban had been clear that if we stayed there longer, they were going to recommence attacks on our forces. I think while it’s conceivable that you could stay there, my view is that you would have had to deploy more forces in order to protect ourselves and accomplish any missions that we would have been assigned. It’s also my view, Mr. Chairman, that the best way to end this war was through a negotiated settlement. And sadly, that did not happen.
Chairman Smith: (47:01)
Thank you. And let me just also say that I know there are members of this committee who think we should have stayed, who were honest about that application. Sorry, I think of Congressman Waltz, who has been very honest about the fact both under President Trump and under President Biden, that we should’ve stayed. He’s very honest about the fact that there were costs and risks and lives would have been lost. That’s the type of discussion that we need to have. But to jump down the president’s throat because he actually had to make the decision in an impossible situation, I think does a grave disservice to this committee’s ability to do effective and honest non-partisan oversight. Costs were going to be born here. There was no easy option. And I do hope that people will remember that as we go through the questions and answers that will proceed. With that I yield to the ranking member.
Mr. Rogers: (47:59)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Milley, was the DOD in charge of making decisions about troop strength in this withdrawal or were you in a support role?
General Milley: (48:18)
Let me put it this way, you’re talking about the NEO or-
Mr. Rogers: (48:21)
I’m talking about… let me just go back even further. In January of this year, were you have the opinion in your professional military judgment that we should have maintained 2,500 US troops in support of the coalition effort and contractors in Afghanistan?
General Milley: (48:39)
My assessment that I read in the opening statement remained consistent and-
Mr. Rogers: (48:45)
Did that professional military opinion change over the course of the next few months?
General Milley: (48:50)
Not until a presidential decision and I rented my opinions and it was a fulsome debate on all of that. And once decisions are made then I’m expected to execute lawful order.
Mr. Rogers: (49:03)
And you’ve made that very clear. So my question is when the troop levels were ordered to be drawn down to zero and first stopping at 650, as General McKenzie outlined, was that your decision or General McKenzie’s decision to draw down to 650?
General Milley: (49:17)
It was a task and then a troop to task analysis with the task being to go to zero, but you also have to defend the embassy. So-
Mr. Rogers: (49:26)
I’m thinking about the chain of command. Somebody is making decisions about troop levels. And my understanding is it was not the DOD. It was the State Department or the White House. I want to know who said, we’re going to go from 2,500 to six 50 and just protect Kabul and the State Department.
General Milley: (49:44)
It was a military analysis that six to 700 could adequately defend the embassy until contractors come up. And that was then approved up through the chain and approved at the highest levels.
Mr. Rogers: (49:54)
Who made the decision?
General Milley: (50:01)
I would say that decision was made in a national security consultation process by the highest levels of our government.
Mr. Rogers: (50:12)
General McKenzie, did you receive advice from General Miller in the end of ’20 and early ’21 related to troop levels in Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (50:23)
Ranking member, I did.
Mr. Rogers: (50:25)
Was that advice?
Gen. McKenzie: (50:26)
The advice, his view and my view were essentially the same view. And my view was that we needed to maintain about 2,500 and that we also needed to work with our coalition partners who had about 6,000 troops in there, NATO and other core countries that would remain there.
Mr. Rogers: (50:40)
Did your professional military opinion change over the course of the spring?
Gen. McKenzie: (50:44)
It did not.
Mr. Rogers: (50:45)
Did you communicate… well, I know you communicate to the president. You said you did. Were you present in the room when General Miller’s recommendations were relayed to the president?
Gen. McKenzie: (50:56)
General Miller was present in executive sessions that involve myself, the secretary here, the chairman and the president.
Mr. Rogers: (51:03)
And those recommendations of the parties as Secretary Austin said, were debated fully-
Gen. McKenzie: (51:09)
I would just… they were debated fully. I felt that my opinion was heard with great thoughtfulness by the president.
Mr. Rogers: (51:16)
Well, Secretary Austin just made the point that there was a fulsome debate, kind of the pros and cons and the costs and risks yet in August of this year President Biden told George Stephanopoulos and in interview, “No. No one said that to me,” referring to keeping some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Was that an inaccurate statement by the president?
Gen. McKenzie: (51:37)
Sir, I am not going to comment on a statement by the president.
Mr. Rogers: (51:40)
Okay. General McKenzie in mid June, your commanders on the ground were informing you that things were deteriorating as you testified a little while ago. At that time, in your judgment, you should stop withdrawal, increase forces or proceed with the retrograde. What did you decide at that time?
Gen. McKenzie: (51:58)
We decided to proceed with the retrograde.
Mr. Rogers: (52:01)
Okay. Were you order to do that by the president?
Gen. McKenzie: (52:06)
Had we followed the original orders. We follow those orders through to completion.
Mr. Rogers: (52:11)
Was it the president’s orders?
Gen. McKenzie: (52:13)
My orders come from the secretary of defense to the president. So that’s a very short chain of command for me.
Mr. Rogers: (52:21)
Secretary Austin, on 23rd you told this committee that you had developed a very detailed plan to conduct safe, orderly, responsible withdrawal and were executing that plan. On August 18th the president said, “The idea that somehow there was going to be a way that we could have gotten out with chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.” How do you reconcile those discrepancies between what you assured the Congress and what the president’s telling us?
Sec. Austin: (52:50)
Thank you, sir. First of all, in terms of the withdrawal of our troops and a retrograde of equipment, that plan as developed by General Miller and General McKenzie was executed as planned and all of our equipment was retrograded. And we drew down the force that we wanted to draw down to that very small force that you saw at the embassy at the very end there. The chaos that ensued followed the collapse of the military and the collapse of the government. And when those two things happen, then it was going to be a chaotic situation.
Mr. Rogers: (53:31)
And the collapse of the government and the collapse of the military was solely responsibility of this administration. I know y’all are trying to be careful politically, but it was the State Department and the White House that told you how to make those draw down of troops from 2,500 to 650 to zero, it was the speed with which they’d done it, that they carried out that order, that’s what caused the chaos that we have. If they had allowed the DOD to be in a command situation, we wouldn’t have had this problem. General McKenzie’s testified that the only reason he couldn’t keep Bagram was because he had to draw down to 650 troops and his primary orders were to keep Hamid Karzai and the State Department safe. We just have to admit this was the State Department and the White House that caused this catastrophe, not the Defense Department. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Smith: (54:15)
Mr. [inaudible 00:54:16]
Speaker 1: (54:15)
Sure. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning. I want to thank our witnesses for your testimony today and for your service to our nation. My constituents and I have, obviously, a lot of questions about the planning that led up to this, and I’ve admit that I’m concerned that based on the conditions on the ground, General Milley and General McKenzie recommended against final withdrawal. I wish the administration had been more thoughtful and not had rushed this. I’ve yet to hear any answer to the question, though, of why did we not start withdrawing American citizens and SIVs sooner. We knew we were going to be withdrawing… whether we started doing that withdrawal of the Americans and SIVs and in January or May, or sooner than the actual execution of the order to withdraw.
Speaker 1: (55:05)
I’d like that question to answered. Also, Secretary Austin, given the general’s concerns, were the discussions about pushing the withdrawal back to spring of 2022 or conditioning it on criteria in the Doha agreement to ensure that we did the handoff correctly. We already weren’t going to fully withdraw by May, 2021. And Secretary Austin, what was the military rationale of leaving by the end of August when the Taliban are at their strongest in the fighting season as opposed to waiting toward the winter months when there is more of a lull in the Taliban fighting season? Where it’s a relatively low [inaudible 00:55:55] weakest. I’d just start with those questions.
Chairman Smith: (55:57)
And I’m sorry. Before you get in it, we are going to stick to the five minute rule. So when the clock hits zero, we’re going to move on to other people. Go ahead.
Sec. Austin: (56:06)
Thank you, sir. On the issue of why we didn’t bring out civilians and SIVs sooner, again, the call on how to do that and when to do it is really a State Department call. We provided input as I said in my opening statement to the State Department. Their concerns rightfully were that number one, they were being cautioned by the Ghani administration that if they withdrew American citizens and SIV applicants at a pace that was too fast, it would cause a collapse of the government that we were trying to prevent. And so I think that went into the calculus. And when you add also into the calculus at the SIV process was, at that point, very slow, deliberate, and not very responsive, with your help, we were able to curtail the time that it took to work through that process. But a number of things kind of came together to cause what happened to happen.
Sec. Austin: (57:18)
But again, we provided our input and we certainly would have liked to seen it go faster or sooner. But again, they had a number of things to think through as well. In terms of adjusting or why the president chose to leave in the summer versus waiting until the next year, obviously a number of things went into his decision calculus. But as we came on board the agreement that had been made was that we were going to depart by May one. We were able to work to get more time to ensure that we could conduct a deliberate and safe and orderly retrograde. But again, the president made the decision that we would leave in the summer versus going into the next year. And I’ll leave it at that, sir, pending any more questions.
Speaker 1: (58:26)
Secretary, I want to know how we now protect the country going forward. Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense, Panetta, said that our national security is threatened by the Taliban takeover. One of our missions was to prevent a haven for terrorist groups and, “We have failed that mission.” Similarly, the director of the DIA has assessed that Al-Qaeda could threaten the Homeland in one to two years. So I agree that over-the-horizon operations could be effective, however, I am concerned that without complementary operations they will be insufficient to keep us safe. Secretary Austin, are you confident that over-the-horizon capabilities on their own can mitigate the terrorist threat we face? Are you confident that we can prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven and how will you keep our country safe?
Chairman Smith: (59:15)
And I apologize, but the gentleman’s time has expired. So that question will have to go on answered the record. Mr. Wilson.
Mr. Wilson: (59:22)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In an interview on August 16th, President Biden promised to keep military troops in Afghanistan until every American citizen who wanted to leave was able to leave. This did not happen nor can we confirm the Blinken claim that he sent 19 separate messages to Americans telling them to leave the country since March of this year. Also unclear is the truth of the Biden claim that no military commander recommended leaving behind a residual force, even though all of you starting courageously with General Scott Miller have now made it clear that your professional military advice was to do so. On August 26, I formally requested all letters referenced that day by Biden from military commanders advising him on the Afghanistan withdrawal. To date I haven’t received a response. As a 31 year army veteran myself, grateful to have four sons who have served in Iraq, Egypt, the Southern border and Afghanistan, I was immediately skeptical letters existed.
Mr. Wilson: (01:00:21)
President Biden left behind thousands of American citizens, green card holders, brave interpreters and Afghan media reporters who worked with the United States. Biden was correct when he said the buck stops with him as the person responsible for Afghanistan, as well as for the terrorists that are now crossing the Southern border to plan attacks on American neighborhoods. In addition to betraying the American citizens and the US allies in Afghanistan, the Biden decision to have a premature withdrawal left the people of Afghanistan who had 60,000 troops killed by the Taliban under the complete control of the Taliban, a barbaric terrorist organization as General Milley has confirmed with Al-Qaeda. Again, Biden was correct. The buck stops with him. The war has moved from Afghanistan to American neighborhoods, equally endangering our allies of India and Israel.
Mr. Wilson: (01:01:20)
Mr. Secretary, even before the withdrawal, there were frustrating reports of Americans and green card holders being turned away at the gates of the airport or being instructed by the ministration of stay away from the airport entirely. While other countries were sending their special forces into Kabul to retrieve their citizens and bring them to the airport, you repeatedly refuse to do the same, even after promising in Pentagon press conference on August 18, that, “We’re going to get every one we can possibly to evacuate and I’ll do that as long as we possibly can until the clock runs out or if we run out of capability.” Mr. Secretary, the American public needs to know, did the clock run out, or did you run out of capability? Did you at any point ask President Biden for any more time or more support to enable your forces to stay and complete the full evacuations of American citizens, not leaving them behind as promised? If so, what was the Biden response?
Sec. Austin: (01:02:21)
First of all, sir, thank you for your personal service in our military. And thanks for the service of your family members. We remain grateful. On the issue of evacuating American citizens and SIV holders, or SIV applicants, this work continues on. We’re not finished and we will make sure that we stay focused on this to get out every American citizen that wants to leave and has the right credentials to be able to leave. On the issue of the security at the airport, it was my assessment and I remain convinced of this, that the risk to mission and risk to force was beyond significant. And had we stayed there much longer, we would have endured continued attacks by ISIS-K and potentially the Taliban. And as each day went forward as that risk increased, we stood to have aircraft shot down, we stood to have additional people injured on the airfield. And so as we re weighed those risks-
Mr. Wilson: (01:03:33)
Mr. Secretary, I need to have this completed. And in fact, I’ll be sending you questions for the record. And I really want to know how many Americans have been left behind. And so we’ll get that. But I will be providing questions for the record. But I sadly believe that American families today are at a greater risk of murderous attacks at home than ever before. You’ve talked about attacks at the airport. Now they’re coming here. And that is that in history, we are at greater risk. Suicide bombers can operate from the safe haven of Afghanistan just as 9/11. And with the open Southern borders. The example of May 8th mass murder of over 80 girls in Kabul should have not been forgotten. The buck stops with 13 murdered Marines. Mr. Biden is disregarding the military advice, and I believe the president should resign. I yield back.
Mr. Larsen: (01:04:28)
I’m prepared to begin my questions, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Smith: (01:04:30)
Mr. Larsen is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. Larsen: (01:04:34)
Heads up, I don’t have a speech so I’m launching into my questions right now. So get ready to answer them. Gentlemen, with regards to the November 11th unclassified signed order, whose signature was on that order?
General Milley: (01:04:53)
Former President Trump.
Mr. Larsen: (01:04:54)
And then six days later, that was rescinded after discussion. Is that correct?
General Milley: (01:05:02)
Mr. Larsen: (01:05:02)
And what were the top three concerns with that particular order?
General Milley: (01:05:12)
Well, the instruction had two lines. Line one was withdrawal US military forces from Somalia by 31 December. Second sentence was withdrawal US military forces from Afghanistan by 15 January. So I went over and spoke to the White House and had some conversations with some folks, not the president and we discussed the cost risk benefit, et cetera, and the feasibility, acceptability and suitability in that order.
Mr. Larsen: (01:05:40)
Okay. All right. [crosstalk 01:05:42] Was that the first time… Well, I’ll ask Secretary Austin, in the last 20 years, given the history in Afghanistan, is the first order at all, that’s come out asking for a withdrawal? Did we have withdrawal plans or withdrawal orders at all in the last 20 years from Afghanistan?
Sec. Austin: (01:06:05)
Absolutely. As you know, we increased our footprint in Afghanistan over time, and then we-
Mr. Larsen: (01:06:12)
And shrunk it. But that’s not-
Sec. Austin: (01:06:13)
That’s not withdrawal.
Mr. Larsen: (01:06:17)
Not complete withdrawal. That’s different. I’m talking about zero. Down to zero. So this would be the first time then? This November 11th order would have been the first ask for a withdrawal to zero, to your knowledge?
Sec. Austin: (01:06:32)
To my knowledge.
Mr. Larsen: (01:06:33)
Within the [inaudible 01:06:35]. From president or anything like that. From any president, I should say. Thank you. Just trying to get timelines set up. And this relates for General McKenzie, you talked about the recommendation that discussion you had about 2,500 troops. Was that for a particular set of missions and those missions change therefore that 2,500 became 650, became zero?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:07:04)
So when we looked at the 2,500 number, we were looking at a force that would have the ability to do very limited advise, assist at a high level, assist in logistics management for the Afghans, but it would have been functioning at a very high level. So that was the force that we wanted to continue to keep on the ground. As we looked at going down to 650, you get a force that is almost exclusively built around the ability to defend the embassy and the airfield and provide entry level logistics to the Afghans. By that, I mean, a package comes into the airport, you give it over to the Afghans, they drive it away and you have no way to track happened. We lost that capability.
Mr. Larsen: (01:07:42)
But based on the civilian leadership saying, this is what the civilian leadership wants to do. You get too and I know you’re not arguing this point, you make the recommendations, giving your best advice and then civilian leadership has the opportunity to say, thank you, but here’s the what I would rather be doing that.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:08:03)
That’s absolutely correct.
Mr. Larsen: (01:08:05)
So the mission changed.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:08:08)
The mission fundamentally changed when we… going to zero means you’re going to reduce all your capability to do any kind of real on the ground work even at a truncated level with the Afghan forces. You’re going to be talking at the ministerial level, the very highest levels of government only. And you’re not going to have any real visibility about what’s going on, on the ground.
Mr. Larsen: (01:08:29)
General Milley, did want tot try to address that?
General Milley: (01:08:31)
I did. I just wanted to clarify one thing, the 11 November order’s actually not the first one. The first one is the Doha agreement, which directs going to zero by one May. The 11 November order is an accelerated withdrawal to bring it to zero by 15 January. So two different-
Mr. Larsen: (01:08:48)
That’s great. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. For the record, I’ll ask this question because this gets to kind of follow on to all of this is how do you define over-the-horizon capabilities and what are those specifically and how do we execute those? And we’re going to explore that a little bit more probably here today? I have 15 seconds I’ll just-
Gen. McKenzie: (01:09:18)
I’ll be prepared to talk a little bit about it today. But I think more importantly, I’ll be prepared to come over at the direction of the secretary and provide a classified briefing.
Mr. Larsen: (01:09:27)
That would be very helpful and there may be an opportunity in the future to travel to the region and hear directly what it looks like.
Chairman Smith: (01:09:34)
[crosstalk 01:09:34] time has expired.
Sec. Austin: (01:09:34)
Under the chairman’s permission, sir, I would offer that briefing by General McKenzie along with joint staff representation with my policy people.
Chairman Smith: (01:09:43)
We will definitely be following up on that. I mean the issue of what we do going forward to deal with the counter-terrorism threat out of South Asia is something this committee has already looked at and will continue to look at for a very long time. Mr. Turner is recognized.
Mr. Turner: (01:09:57)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I serve on both the House Armed Services Committee and Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee has already-
Representative Mike Turner: (01:10:03)
… Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee has already been briefed from the intelligence community concerning their participation of the August 29th drone attack. General McKenzie. You’ve taken in front of us full responsibility for that.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:10:13)
I have a series of information that I would like released to this committee, so that we can adequately provide oversight to what occurred on August 29th. What we know from your prior statements is that you did not know who it was who was in the car, whose house it was, or who, or how many people, were in the house.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:10:33)
This greatly concerns me as we look to the over horizon claims that the administration has of its ability for counterterrorism. You did not, as your goal was stated, thwart or disrupt an imminent attack, you killed an innocent man, and yet an attack didn’t happen. There are serious questions concerning both the information that you had, and the manner in which the execution occurred.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:10:53)
So I would request that it be released to this committee and the Intelligence Committee, relevant video excerpts from the drones of August 29th, the protocols that were in place prior to this drone attack mission, the intelligence that an attack was imminent against our forces, and the approval of any, of authorization to modify those protocols, including approvals for delegation of authority, including target engagement authority, who approved at the DOD, and in the administration, and the data that the Secretary released to the IG. I just want to make it clear, Mr. Secretary, the fact that you have an IG investigation does not stop congressional oversight. I’ll be sending you a list of all those. I’d like your consent that you’re going to be providing those to us. They are certainly within the jurisdiction of our two committees.
Sec. Austin: (01:11:39)
I acknowledge, sir, and you are correct. There is a review going on of the strike.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:11:44)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. General Milley, with indignation in front of the House and the Senate, you have commented on the statements in the press concerning your phone conversation with your counterpart, General Li, in China. Let’s be clear, to give you some help with the indignation?
Representative Mike Turner: (01:12:04)
Those comments were in the press, because that’s where you put them. Now you claim that you had information, and it’s all over, that that China was worried about an imminent attack.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:12:14)
You did not tell the President, the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Director of National Intelligence, either of the relevant committees in the House, including the Big Eight, which you know, include Intel. You didn’t tell the Intelligence Committee, you didn’t tell the Armed Services Committee.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:12:33)
You report that after you took upon yourself to have this phone conversation, that you told them of the conversation for, not that China believed that we were going to eminently attack them, which by the way, has never been true in my lifetime. And it may be true, since they believed it. That’s why they’re digging ICBM holes faster than they can fill them with ICBMs. But you chose instead to handle it yourself, with a phone call.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:12:58)
So General Milley, you offered all of the concerning intelligence, and I’m going to request that you provide it to us. I would like you to provide us the relevant intelligence information that you based your belief, that China was going to believe that there was an imminent attack. I also want your requests for declassification of the approval, that you released that information, that China believed so, including your request for declassification of your conversation that you had with General Li, and any approvals.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:13:29)
I want a transcript of your call with General Li. And I also want any readouts, memorandums, notice of calls, or outcomes.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:13:36)
Now, you chose to talk to reporters instead of us, and it’s of great concern. No one in Congress knew that one of two of the major nuclear powers thought that they were perhaps being threatened for attack.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:13:51)
Now, Mr. Secretary, that turns my questions to you, then. Mr. Secretary, if you learn that Russia or China believes that they may be subject to an attack by the United States, as a member of the President’s Cabinet, do you believe that information should be handled at the Cabinet level, and with the President, with the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of Defense?
Representative Mike Turner: (01:14:15)
Do you believe the Chair and ranking member of Intel in the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee need to know these? Or do you believe that a belief of the possibility of an attack by the United States against Russia and China is appropriately handled by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a phone call with his counterpart, with one of those nations?
Representative Mike Turner: (01:14:38)
Please tell me that you believe it elevates to the level, that you would elevate that to the Cabinet and to Congress, and not just have it be subsequently told to us all, by newspaper articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times, as General Milley chose to do?
Sec. Austin: (01:14:56)
Thank you, sir. Obviously, we would want to follow a standard protocol, and what you’ve described is what I would, the type of actions that I would consider taking.
Sec. Austin: (01:15:10)
But General Milley, as what I heard him say yesterday, and I think again today, is that his chain of command, the Secretary of Defense at the time, was aware of the actions. And so, after-
Representative Mike Turner: (01:15:25)
What he said to yesterday’s after. Mr. Chairman?
Chairman Smith: (01:15:26)
I’m sorry. General Milley?
General Milley: (01:15:27)
No, that’s not correct. What I said yesterday, today-
Chairman Smith: (01:15:29)
If I could … Hold on just a second, everybody. Time has expired. Mr. Turner is very clever. He made a very direct attack, as his time was expiring.
Chairman Smith: (01:15:38)
I’m going to violate the rules here a little bit, and let Chairman Milley respond to that direct attack, hopefully, briefly. And then we’ll move onto the next witness.
General Milley: (01:15:46)
With respect to the intelligence, I have it right here. I’ll be happy to share it with you.
Representative Mike Turner: (01:15:52)
General Milley: (01:15:53)
I guarantee that that intelligence was disseminated, too, in the President’s PDB, the Vice President, the DNI, director, CIA, the Secretary of Defense, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and others. That was significant. And there was a lot of it.
General Milley: (01:16:11)
It wasn’t just a singular report. There was a lot of, I’ll be happy to share that with you, and go over it with you, line by line. It was significant, and it was concerning to the point where Secretary of Defense Esper, Admiral Davidson and myself, along with others had conversations about it.
General Milley: (01:16:26)
And I was directed by then-Swcretary Defense Esper. First, he directed his Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs to make calls, and then me, same thing. This is all done with oversight. And I tried to lay that out in the memoranda.
General Milley: (01:16:41)
I tried to lay it out in a timeline, in an unclassified way, that you can use it, and we’re-
Chairman Smith: (01:16:44)
And we’re going to … I’m sorry. We’re going to have to leave it at that.
General Milley: (01:16:47)
… I’ll be happy to pick it up at a later date, at your convenience.
Chairman Smith: (01:16:49)
Mr. Courtney is recognized.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:16:51)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the witnesses, for your service and testimony today. One comment, Mr. Chairman, before questions.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:16:57)
Over the last month, including yesterday’s Senate hearing, we heard a lot of, in my opinion, over the top claims that the US had lost all credibility with its allies in the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Last week, Mr. Chairman, we saw first hand in Washington, how mistaken that claim was.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:17:12)
On Wednesday last week, I attended a ceremony over in the Senate where the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said that Australia was proud to go into Afghanistan together, and leave together, degrading al-Qaeda, and preventing a major terrorist attack. And in very heartfelt terms, thanked the United States, particularly the 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman, and one soldier, who perished while safely evacuating 4,100 Australians from Kabul.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:17:37)
Boris Johnson last week, who was also in town, when asked about the US standing post-withdrawal, said, “What I said to Joe Biden is how grateful I am, for the amazing work of the US military in helping us extricate, in two weeks, 15,000 British nationals from Kabul, to whom we owe debts of honor and gratitude. The US military were heroic.”
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:17:58)
Of course, they were in town to enthusiastically endorse AUKUS, the new defense agreement in the Pacific, which, as Politico reported, that despite all the hand wringing over the last couple of weeks, was a powerful reminder that an American security guarantee with our allies still reigns supreme, and in the stroke of a pen has reaffirmed our engagement and collaboration with allies in a region that the National Defense Strategy has identified as our number one priority. Secretary Austin, I want to just want to follow up on the August 29th drone strike.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:18:31)
General McKenzie, on the 17th, again, gave, I guess, a Central Command investigation report, which described it as a tragic mistake. You also that day announced that there was going to be a DOD follow-up investigation.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:18:46)
Can you tell us, what is the difference between what you described, and what scent CENTCOM did. When can we expect to see results from that investigation that you described?
Sec. Austin: (01:19:00)
Well, I directed a three-star review of the incident. Certainly, it will take into account all the things that General McKenzie and his team have done. But we’ll look at the soup to nuts policy procedures, whether or not we followed our own practices, our outlined practices.
Sec. Austin: (01:19:29)
We’ll certainly look at accountability, as well. If somebody should be held accountable for something that they did, that was outside of a standard practice, then we’ll take a look at that, so …
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:19:40)
Thank you. General McKenzie, you mentioned on the 17th, that the department is exploring the possibility of ex gratia payments for, as compensation for the individuals who died in that strike. Again, that’s a $3 million per year set aside that the United States military’s operation has used over in the past.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:20:03)
However, in 2020, despite 23 civilians that were killed, there was no payments made last year. Can you give us some feeling that this agreement is sufficient to address this issue, which I think really is our country’s responsibility?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:20:20)
Sir, I agree with you. I believe we have a significant responsibility here, and I know that even as we speak right now, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy is engaged in finding the best way to move forward on an appropriate ex gratia payment, and whatever other measures may be contemplated in regard to that family. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:20:37)
Thank you. And I just would reflect that certainly is a high volume concern in my district.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:20:43)
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:20:44)
General Milley, again, we first met in 2013, and at [inaudible 01:20:49]. You were in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and I think many of us had that same experience of seeing you in country there. And certainly, your service is something that I think should be unquestioned, and commitment to our nation.
Representative Joe Courtney: (01:21:03)
In your testimony, you talked again about the Doha Agreement, the conditions that were put into place for the Taliban to perform, and that only one out of the eight actually had been complied with, even up through February. Nonetheless, 80% of the troops in the US were drawn down from the date of the Doha Agreement, to January 21st. Can you just talk about the noncompliance of the Taliban throughout 2020, and the predicament that I think this administration was left when it took office, with just a fraction of the troop level that was there in February 2020?
General Milley: (01:21:42)
We had almost 13,000 US troops there in February 2020, and you got the numbers for the Inauguration. But the bottom line is, a reduction in violence, a nationwide cease-fire, and all series of other-
Chairman Smith: (01:21:54)
I apologize, but the gentleman’s time has expired.
General Milley: (01:21:56)
…I’ll respond to the record on that. Thank you.
Chairman Smith: (01:21:58)
Okay. Mr. Lamborn is recognized.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:22:00)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We on this committee have repeatedly expressed our concern that the US military does not have regional basing and cooperation agreements required for an effective over the horizon counterterrorism capability.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:22:14)
In May, Mr. Helvey, in response to my question in here, confirmed that this administration had not yet secured the necessary agreements with any of the governments in the region to establish these over the rising capabilities. So, General Mackenzie, has the administration, as of today, secured any necessary agreements with a neighboring country to provide the basing and overflight requirements needed to perform over the horizon counterterror operations in landlocked Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:22:46)
Representative, as of today, I have the ability to enter Afghanistan, and to fly missions. It’s a long haul land, but I have the ability to do that today.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:22:54)
But no, we don’t have an agreement with a neighboring country. Is that true? Isn’t that true?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:22:58)
And obviously, it’s a neighboring country that’s allowing us access, but we’re not based in any neighboring country. That’s correct, sir.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:23:04)
Okay. So we can safely assume, that as of August 31st, we did not also have an agreement at that time in the past? Okay, thank you.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:23:17)
General Milley, at the June 23rd hearing here, you testified to this committee that Bagram was not necessary tactically to the military’s withdrawal plan. You dismissed my and other people’s concerns about the military value of Bagram. And you seemed to have based that on an assessment that the Taliban, at that point, had not yet taken major districts.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:23:40)
Yesterday, though, you told Senator Blackburn that one of the courses of action you provided the Commander-in-chief was to keep Bagram Air Base open, which sounds different from what you told us in January 23rd. But for the record, was it your professional military opinion and advice that we should abandon Bagram Air Base? And if not, was this decision forced on you by the arbitrary troop cap of roughly 650?
General Milley: (01:24:07)
Once the President’s decision was made in mid-April, 14 April, and we had a change of mission to go to zero, and bring the troops down to a number that was only required to maintain an embassy, the Bagram decision was made at that point, because at that point, there’s no way you could defend both Bagram and HKIA. But one additional point. Most of the people that were required to be in a NEO were going to come out of Kabul. And HKIA, as Scotty Miller, General Miller has already testified to, KIA was always going to be the center of gravity of any NEO. But we didn’t have the forces available to do both, so we pursued on …
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:24:50)
Okay, thank you. I’m going to ask General McKenzie a question. General McKenzie, had we kept control of Bagram, what forces or what options and capabilities would that have given US forces during the withdrawal, had that been in play?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:25:05)
Well, in order to hold Bagram, I’d have needed, probably pushing 5,000 more troops on the ground. So that would have been a significant decision, to hold Bagram.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:25:14)
And we were under the direction to go to zero. So it would have required a basic policy directive, to change the plan. If you’re going to go to zero, and you’re going to keep enough forces to hold your embassy and the airfield, it is incompatible to hold any other base anywhere in the country.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:25:29)
So that would be a policy decision, to go out and hold Bagram, under that case. Let me just further add, I did not see any tactical utility to Bagram.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:25:40)
General McKenzie, isn’t it true that the President rejected your best military opinion and advice as to how quickly to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:25:51)
Well, I will say this. It has been my view that I recommended a level of 2,500, a level that would have allowed us to hold Bagram, and other airfields, as well. Once you go below that level and make a decision to go to zero, it is no longer feasible to hold Bagram.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:26:06)
But that was your best opinion and advice?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:26:09)
That remains my view now, as it was then.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:26:12)
Thank you. And you said, to hold Bagram, would have taken 2,500. A minute ago, you said 5,000.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:26:21)
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:26:22)
It sounds like it was 2,500.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:26:24)
Well, it depends on the situation. If you’re talking about a situation where you’re not fighting the Taliban, and you have the full assistance of the Afghan government or the Taliban’s attacks against you, at a minimum, yes, you can hold it at 2,500.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:26:38)
If however, you pause it, that you’re in Afghanistan, say, beyond August the 31st, without the tacit agreement of the Taliban, and without the assistance of the government of Afghanistan, who provided most of the physical security at Bagram, then you have to put a big footprint, in just as we did at HKIA. It’s exactly the same scene there. The two situations are analogous.
Chairman Smith: (01:27:00)
Gentleman’s time has expired.
Representative Doug Lamborn: (01:27:02)
Chairman Smith: (01:27:02)
Representative John Garamendi: (01:27:03)
Gentlemen, thank you so very much for your testimony. Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge an extraordinary effort, and successful effort made by the US military, particularly the Air Force, in the most awesome and successful evacuation of civilians ever in the history of this world. Well done, very, very well done, and compliments to all involved in that.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:27:32)
Obviously, the loss of the 13 souls, members of the military, that was a great tragedy. And you and all of us regret that.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:27:43)
The fog of war is only repeated by the fog of the committee. So let me lay out some timeframes here. In mid-2018, former President Trump ordered formal and direct us Taliban negotiations without the Afghan government participating. In February 2020, and excuse me, August 2019, President Trump said that he would withdraw all US troops as quickly as possible. In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a formal agreement, in which the United States committed to withdraw all of its troops, contractors and non-diplomatic civilian personnel from Afghanistan no later than May 1st, 2021. In June 2020, the US troop levels reached 8,600. In October, former President Trump Tweeted, “We should have the small number of remaining brave men and women serving Afghanistan home by Christmas.”
Representative John Garamendi: (01:28:48)
In November 17th, 2020, then Acting Secretary of Defense Miller announced “that we will implement former President Trump’s orders to continue repositioning forces from Afghanistan, and the 2,500 US troops who remain there, by January 15th.” On January 15th, he announced that there were indeed 2,500 troops left.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:29:11)
On January 20th, Biden became President. 2,500 troops were then in Afghanistan. On April 14th, president Biden announced his intention to continue their withdrawal all regular US troops by September 11th, four months after the pre-planned May 1st deadline.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:29:36)
On July 2nd, Italy and Germany withdrew their troops. On July 17th, we have had specific testimony here on what then happened from July 17th on.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:29:48)
And if I recall correctly, the Afghan government completely collapsed on the 20th of August, wasn’t there any longer, and from there, the evacuations commenced. General Mackenzie, were the 2,500 troops on the ground sufficient, as agreed with the Taliban, were they there, in accordance with the agreement?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:30:21)
Had we held the 2,500, which I’ve stated was my position, and as the Secretary has articulated, there would have been a clear risk that the Taliban would have begun to attack us as we moved past the one May deadline. However, it was my judgment then that that would still given us a platform to continue negotiations with the Taliban, to perhaps force a political solution.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:30:43)
My concern was, that if we withdrew a low 2,500 and went to zero, that the Afghan military and government would collapse. And of course, that’s not a potential counterfactual, that is in fact what happened. So we have objective data to understand what happens if you go to zero.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:30:57)
Several of us attended a luncheon here in the Capitol, in late June, with President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. They were very, very confident that they would be able to maintain their government, with the reduction, and the withdrawal of American troops. They specifically said, that with 300,000 troops, they could do it.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:31:24)
They needed continued financial support, they needed the necessary intelligence from the United States, and they also needed to have certain air strikes, drone strikes. That was their promise.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:31:40)
They also said that they did not want to allow Afghans to leave. That’s what they specifically told us. They did not want Afghans to leave. Obviously, Ghani decided that he would leave.
Representative John Garamendi: (01:31:57)
Further questions? My time is expired. I’ll yield back.
Chairman Smith: (01:32:03)
Thank you. Mr. Wittman.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:32:05)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thanks so much for your testimony today. General Milley, I want to begin with you, and I want to build on a question that Ranking Member Rogers asked.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:32:14)
On August 18th, President Biden said that there’s no way possible that US troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan without the chaos that we saw unfold. In your best military judgment, was there a way to extract the troops, without the chaos that we saw unfold?
General Milley: (01:32:36)
I just want to be clear. We’re talking two about different missions. The retrograde of the troops at 2,500, everybody’s talking about, those are advisors. That was complete by mid-July, and that was done actually without any significant incident.
General Milley: (01:32:45)
That’s the handover of 11 bases, the bringing out of a lot of equipment, et cetera. That was done under the command of General Miller.
General Milley: (01:32:52)
The noncombatant evacuation operation is different. The noncombatant operation, that was done under conditions of great volatility, great violence, and great threat. And we inserted 6,000 troops on relatively short notice, because there was some contingency plans to do that.
General Milley: (01:33:07)
That’s a different operation. And I think that the first two days of that, as we saw, were not only chaotic, but violent and high risk. But because of the skill and leadership of our troops, they were able to get control of a situation in an airfield in a country that was falling apart, and then execute the operation.
General Milley: (01:33:22)
So I think it would have been difficult under any circumstances. And I think our soldiers performed extraordinarily well, actually, in 48 hours, getting control of an airfield in another country, eight and a half times zones away.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:33:33)
But I understand that, but you’re talking about a very compressed time frame. I’m talking about the full extent about what you’re looking at. You can talk about two missions, but I’m talking about in totality of what we’re looking at there, was a chaotic and disaggregated effort.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:33:47)
It seems like, to me, that your professional military judgment would probably not have been focused in your recommendations and seeing this outcome. I just wanted to get it from your [crosstalk 01:34:01].
General Milley: (01:34:00)
My recommendations, at the time, and my analysis, at the time, were aligned actually with what you’ve heard from General Miller previously, and General McKenzie was, flatline it at about 2,500, and go for a negotiated solution, and make sure it’s conditions based. And we all render our advice, and Presidents make decisions, and then we execute.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:34:23)
This morning, you stated that the withdrawal was a logistical success, but a strategic failure. And I would say that probably American citizens and the Special Immigrant Visa holders would probably disagree. Those that were left behind would probably disagree with your assessment of a logistical success.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:34:40)
That being said, I want to focus on the strategic failure aspect of that. You said yesterday, that all you can do, and you just said it now, all you can do is provide your best advice. And it’s up to the President to make the ultimate decision. In your best military judgment, did President Biden’s decisions cause this strategic failure?
General Milley: (01:35:01)
I think, as I said yesterday, first of all, I’m not going to judge a President. That’s the job of the American people, that’s the job of Congress, not mine.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:35:07)
I’m asking for your best military judgment, for your strategic judgment.
General Milley: (01:35:10)
Yeah. My assessment is, this is a 20-year war, and it wasn’t lost in the last 20 days, or even 20 months, for that matter.
General Milley: (01:35:18)
There’s a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back, bin Laden, right on the Tora Bora, for example. We knew where he was, we were 1,000 meters away, could have ended it, perhaps, right there.
General Milley: (01:35:29)
The shift from going into Iraq and, and pulling all the troops out of Afghanistan, with the exception of a few others, major strategic decision. Not effectively dealing with Pakistan as a sanctuary, major strategic issue that we’re going to have to really unpack.
General Milley: (01:35:43)
The intelligence piece, pulling advisors off, three or four years ago, out of [CANDEX 01:35:46], so we blinded ourselves to our ability to see the will, the morale, the leadership and the training. There’s a whole series of decisions that take place over 20 years.
General Milley: (01:35:53)
I don’t think, that whenever you get some phenomenon, like a war that is lost, and it has been, in the sense of, we accomplished our strategic task of protecting America against al-Qaeda, but certainly, the end state is a whole lot different than what we wanted.
General Milley: (01:36:06)
So whenever that phenomenon like that happens, there’s an awful lot of causal factors, and we’re going to have to figure that out. A lot of lessons learned here.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:36:13)
Thank you, and I want to build with your answers to Secretary Austin. And Secretary Austin, imagine that you had a number of opportunities, in your capacity as CENTCOM commanding General to brief President Obama.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:36:26)
I imagine that Vice President Biden was probably privy to these briefs. Was he a regular attendee when you gave these briefs?
Sec. Austin: (01:36:37)
The Vice President was frequently in the Situation Room when we conducted meetings, yes.
Representative Rob Wittman: (01:36:46)
Let me go from there, then, to the battle of Kunduz, which we know, Taliban took over, Afghan forces retreated. Did you recognize that as the beginning of the weakness in the ISAF mission? And were there issues at that point of intense interest to Vice President Biden?
Chairman Smith: (01:37:05)
I’m sorry, that’s going to have to be a question for the record, because the time has expired. Ms. Speier is recognized.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:37:11)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for your extraordinary service to our country.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:37:15)
I want to just set the record straight on a couple of points. It was in 2017 that then President Trump relaxed rules of engagement for air strikes, and there was a massive increase in civilian casualties, a 330% increase during Trump’s administration.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:37:32)
Compared to the previous 10 years, there was a 95% increase in civilian deaths from 2017 to 2019. It was then President Trump, who in mid-2018, ordered talks with the Taliban, without the Afghani leadership. And it was in February 2020 when that formal agreement was made.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:37:54)
Now, Chairman Milley, you identified the Taliban as a terrorist organization. Can you tell us anything about former President Trump’s intent to invite the Taliban leadership to the United States, or to Camp David, specifically?
General Milley: (01:38:15)
I have no personal knowledge of that invitation. I saw it in the media, but I was not part of any discussions or decision making on that. I have no personal knowledge.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:38:23)
Secretary Austin, did the previous administration develop plans for withdrawal? And was there any handoff to you of those plans?
Sec. Austin: (01:38:34)
There was no handoff to me of any plans for withdrawal.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:38:37)
So, then President Trump calls for a total withdrawal by May 1st, 2021, and no plans had been made during his administration for withdrawal?
Sec. Austin: (01:38:50)
I would say that I’m confident that General Miller, who was anticipating a decision one way or the other, was making plans. And I certainly would defer to General McKenzie, in terms of what he might have done. But from, in terms of handoff from administration to administration, secretary to secretary, there was no hand off to me.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:39:16)
All right. Is it not true that on April 27th, President Biden, through the State Department, called on all Americans in Afghanistan to leave by commercial flights? Can any of you answer that question? Well, that was, in fact, what happened.
Sec. Austin: (01:39:40)
I don’t have knowledge of that.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:39:40)
All right. That was, in fact, what happened. So we put on notice, all Americans in Afghanistan, on April 27th, it was time to get out.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:39:51)
Let me ask you this, General Milley, what was the impact of President Trump’s drawdown to 2,500 troops, despite the Taliban’s noncompliance with much of the peace agreement? And how did that affect our intelligence gathering?
General Milley: (01:40:07)
There’s two questions there. The first question, I think, the Doha Agreement itself, because of the nature of it, and this is more 20/20 hindsight, perhaps. But we now believe that the Doha Agreement itself, perhaps undermined, or contributed to the undermining of the morale and confidence of the government, because it was a bilateral agreement, et cetera.
General Milley: (01:40:24)
But having said that, there were conditions built into that, one of which was met, many of which were not. And the drawdown to 2,500 proceeded, because the fundamental condition of, they weren’t attacking us, was being met.
General Milley: (01:40:38)
The drawdown to 2,500, the impact that that had on the morale, the will of the Afghan military, I believe that it was a negative impact, but I don’t know that yet. We need to go through all of our intelligence and analyze it, in an after action review. But I do think that was a contributing factor to the morale of the Afghan security forces.
Representative Jackie Speier: (01:41:02)
General Milley, there’s been a lot of talk about retaining 2,500 service members in Afghanistan. I think we all forget that there was a negotiation with the Taliban, and we would have to get them to agree to allow 2,500 troops to remain in the country. Having said that, in your view, would a small force of 2,500 be sufficient to achieve anything of value?
General Milley: (01:41:30)
I think that the 2,500 would have been at great risk. I have no doubt that the Taliban would have reinitiated combat operations or attacks on us forces. And the 2,500 would have been at increased risk to that.
General Milley: (01:41:46)
What’s the value of keeping the 2,500? It has as much to do with the morale, and the keeping advisors with them, and having the morale of the Afghan security forces in demonstrating confidence in the government.
General Milley: (01:41:59)
Going to zero, it’s clear to me that one of the big lessons learned, we have to unpack from the military side, is the mirror imaging in the development of the Afghan military. And they became dependent upon our presence … Sorry.
Chairman Smith: (01:42:11)
I apologize for the time. General Milley’s time has expired. Miss Hartzler is recognized.
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:42:17)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s imperative that we have this hearing today, because the last withdrawal from Afghanistan, I believe, is the most significant foreign policy failure in a generation. And it’s going to have ramifications for years to come.
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:42:33)
So we need to get to the bottom of this. First, I want to start off, to General Milley a question, that you made a comment earlier, that you’d be …
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:42:43)
Well, I wanted to ask you. Did you tell General [Ji 01:42:48], when you talk to him on the phone, that if we were going to attack China, that you would let him know ahead of time?
General Milley: (01:43:11)
Chairman Smith: (01:43:11)
I’m sorry. Could you get the microphone a little more in front of you there? Make sure it’s on?
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:43:14)
General Milley: (01:43:14)
So this is a longer conversation. It’s a VTC, with General Li. And there’s a body of intelligence that leads up to this, that was persuasive to secretary Esper, myself, and many, many others, that the Chinese thought, wrongly, that the United States is going to attack them.
General Milley: (01:43:34)
I am certain, guaranteed certain, that President Trump had no intent to attack, and it was my task to make sure I communicated that. And the purpose was to deescalate, and calm things down.
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:43:45)
You shared all that earlier, I understand-
General Milley: (01:43:47)
And as part of that-
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:43:47)
… I just wanted to say, did you, or did you not ask, tell him that if we were going to attack, you would let him know?
General Milley: (01:43:53)
As part of that conversation, I said, “General Li, there’s not going to be a war, there’s not going to attack between great powers. And if there was, the tensions would build up, there’d be calls going back and forth from all kinds of senior officials.”
General Milley: (01:44:04)
I said, “Hell, General Li, I’ll probably give you a call. But we’re not going to attack you. Trust me. We’re not going to attack you. These are two great powers, and I am doing my best to transmit the President’s intent, President trump’s intent, to ensure that the American people are protected from an incident that could escalate.”
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:44:21)
I understand your intent, but I think you articulating that, that you would tell him, you would give him a call, I think, is worthy of your resignation. I just think that’s against our country, that you would give our number one adversary that information, and tell him that. But I’d like to go on to General Austin and ask you a question.
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:44:42)
According to President Biden, he chose you to serve as his Defense Secretary, primarily because that you oversaw the full withdrawal of US forces in 2011 from Iraq. But ironically, the 2011 Iraq withdrawal left similar conditions of governmental failure, the empowerment of regional terrorist organizations, most notably, ISIS. And, as you …
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:45:03)
[inaudible 01:45:00] regional terrorist organizations, most notably ISIS and a humanitarian crisis of refugees and internally displaced people in desperate need of international emergency assistance. The 2011 US military exit from Iraq was short-lived, with President Obama redeploying US forces into Iraq and Syria in 2014 to defeat Islamic State. Despite the administration’s reassurances, it seems we may be in a similar trajectory in Afghanistan. After US forces abandoned Bagram Air Base in July, the Taliban quickly took over the base and released five to 7,000 ISIS-K and Taliban prisoners. When the last US troops evacuated from Afghanistan on August 31st, this administration handed over total government control to the Taliban, a known terrorist organization with leaders of the Haqqani terrorist network now in key positions within the Taliban’s de facto government.
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:45:53)
In recent weeks, the Taliban has deemed education irrelevant, barred women and girls from school and work, committed horrific retaliatory attacks on members of Afghan Security Forces and interpreters, and established suicide bomber schools within the country. We also know that Al Qaeda and ISIS-K both have reestablished a presence within the country. Even before the US withdrew, ISIS-K claim credit for a suicide bombing, which you have mentioned, took the lives of 13 service members on August 23rd. Secretary Austin, is it true that the suicide bomber who attacked the Kabul airport on August 23rd was a CIA prisoner at the Bagram Air Base, whom the Taliban released after Biden’s administration left Bagram in July?
Sec. Austin: (01:46:41)
Let me just say a couple of things first on why the president selected me or nominated me to be his Secretary of Defense. You have to certainly go back to the president and ask him specifically why he did that, but it wasn’t, I’m sure, solely based upon my oversight of the evacuation of Iraq. But I would point to you that there’s a government in Iraq right now that’s holding elections there. The United States military is in Iraq-
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:47:13)
At four seconds, could you answer my question, was suicide bomber-
Chairman Smith: (01:47:18)
Gentle lady’s time has expired.
Sec. Austin: (01:47:19)
I’ll take the question for the record.
Chairman Smith: (01:47:21)
Representative Vicky Hartzler: (01:47:22)
Chairman Smith: (01:47:22)
Mr. Gallego: (01:47:23)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Generally, I don’t see eye to eye with many generals and certainly General Milley and I have had disagreements, but I think what was said earlier was inappropriate in its nature, to accuse a member of the military that they would tip off our opposition in any way. I’d like to give General Milley an opportunity to respond to that if he wants and if not, then I’ll gladly continue the, my questions.
General Milley: (01:47:49)
As I said up front, I’m not going to tip off any enemy to what the United States is going to do in an actual plan. What I’m trying to do is persuade an adversary that’s heavily armed, that was clearly and unambiguously according to intelligence reports, very nervous about our behavior and what’s happening inside this country. They were concerned that we, President Trump was going to launch an attack. He was not going to launch an attack. I knew he wasn’t going to launch an attack. At the direction of the Secretary of Defense, I engaged the Chinese in order to persuade them to do that. I would never tip off any enemy to any kind of surprise thing that we were going to do. That’s a different context than that conversation.
Mr. Gallego: (01:48:28)
Thank you general. Thank you to all three ministers for taking the time to testify today. Obviously, the resurgence of the Taliban is devastating and it’s difficult for many of us to watch, but sadly it underlines the reality that after 20 years, four US presidents, and billions of dollars, the conditions for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan could not be created. That is why I believe President Biden made the right decision to withdraw. Stay in Afghanistan, a prolonged and stalled conflict would have required more troops and more resources with no clear timeline. I don’t believe that we could ask our servicemen and women to give their lives for a mission that in the end wouldn’t have been successful. I do like many of you here applaud our troops who were tasked over to evacuate American citizens, our allies, Afghan citizens, and everyone threatened by the Taliban. I still believe we have a moral imperative to help those who helped us in Afghanistan. I, and many of us will do everything in our power to continue to do that.
Mr. Gallego: (01:49:20)
I have some questions to begin with. General Milley, in your testimony, the speed and scale scope of the collapse of the Afghan army and the government was a surprise. Yet the Taliban was clearly gaining ground June and especially July before the their arrival in Kabul. As we not only look toward the future of Afghanistan, but also think about our operations across the globe, what lessons specific to our intelligence gathering and analysis do you think DOD can learn from this experience? Do you think it’s time for a larger rethink within the department about how to assess intelligence in a very rapidly changing environment?
General Milley: (01:49:56)
I do. I think, I don’t know the full answer yet, but I think that the primary reason we missed it was because we essentially cannot, we have yet to develop a really effective technique to read people’s hearts, their will, their mind, their leadership skills. Those are intangibles. Now, the moralist of physical history is the one that conduct of war, so very difficult to measure. When we pull our advisors off of organizations at lower levels, you start missing that fingertip touch for that intangible of war. We can count the trucks and the guns and the units and all that. We can watch that from different techniques, but we can’t measure a human heart from a machine. You got to be there to do that, and I think that was probably one of the most significant contributing factors to missing the deterioration and the morale of the Afghan army.
Mr. Gallego: (01:50:45)
I guess one of the things that I’m deeply disturbed by, and this can be either to General McKenzie or also [inaudible 01:50:52] can jump in, speaking to a lot of service members, enlisted service members that have served for decades in and out of Afghanistan, they were always telling me something extremely different from what I was getting from reports from many of you generals here. That the Afghan army was not ready, that they were not going to be sustainable on their own. And so that, how did we miss that? How is it that a lot of 18, 19 year old, mid 20 year old [inaudible 01:51:21] were predicting this, but yet some of our greatest minds, both on civilian side and uniform side, absolutely miss this. I think that’s something that concerns me because Afghanistan is done, but we’re going to be obviously engaging all over the world, and this type of intelligence failure repeated could be an existential threat to the national security of the United States. General McKenzie, you want to try that?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:51:46)
Sure. I think it’s a reasonable criticism. We’ll have to take a look at how we actually remain connected to the people who are down at the advisory level. I think that’s something that I’m conflicted by that as well, I’ll be very candid with you. We will certainly take a look at that because I’ve heard that same strain myself. It’s harder to get the truth as you become more senior, we perhaps need to look at ways to ensure that’s conveyed in a more rapid and effective way. I’ll accept that criticism.
Mr. Gallego: (01:52:16)
Thank you for your guys’ testimony, I yield back.
Chairman Smith: (01:52:18)
Thank you. Mr. Scott is recognized.
Mr. Scott: (01:52:21)
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen, I need your help fairly immediately on two issues, one of which can’t be discussed in the setting, but the other one can. There are 145 Afghan Air Force personnel in Tajikistan. They flew 16 aircraft into that country on August the 13th. It’s now September the 29th. We need to get them out of Tajikistan. These are people who trained with us, they fought with us, they did everything that we asked of them. We have gotten no assistance at all from the state department to move them. I’m asking you all three of you for your help in addressing the issue, Secretary Austin, we need the help.
Sec. Austin: (01:53:12)
Acknowledged sir, and we will get with state right away to see if we can move this forward, but I share your concern sir.
Mr. Scott: (01:53:22)
Thank you. I do want to mention this, and I think this is where the frustration of every member of the committee comes in. That we had people in Uzbekistan, the state department ignored them as well and said they would get to them when they got to them. But we have a lady in Tajikistan that’s nine months pregnant, that’s one of our pilots. We need help removing them. We also need to make it clear to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan that that is military equipment, and it is not to be returned to Afghanistan. And so I would appreciate it if we could put that in writing to both of those countries, that the equipment belongs to the US not to Afghanistan. With that said, I appreciate your commitment to help. I do want to mention one thing, secretary, state department, we’re using the number 124,000. That 124,000 is US and NATO allies, correct?
Sec. Austin: (01:54:31)
Mr. Scott: (01:54:33)
We had provided a list of names of people who were P1, P2 SIVs, to central command, to everybody we knew to get it to. Yet our people were not allowed into HKAI. They were at the gates, but they were not allowed into HKAI, even though they were on the manifest, yet so many people came out of the country that appeared not to be on the manifest. How was the determination made, and who got on the plane and who didn’t get on the plane?
Sec. Austin: (01:55:12)
I can’t speak to the exact processes that existed inside of HKAI at the time, in terms of how people were sorted out. I can tell you that we tried very, very hard to get everybody that we possibly could out, especially American citizens and SIV applicants that work with us. We also owed it to our partners to help them get some of their people out as well, and they helped us with some security issues and other things while they were there.
Mr. Scott: (01:55:52)
Secretary I’m close on time, but I will tell you, I do think that that’s a question that is going to linger and that the committee wants answers on because we have P1, P2 SIVs that were left behind and other people that were not, or should not have been on the manifest, seem to have gotten out.
Sec. Austin: (01:56:07)
Well, I would just tell you, we’re going to continue to work to try to get as many out as we can. In the last 48 hours, I think we’ve brought out and additional 63 American citizens and 169 legal, permanent residents. We’re going to continue to work this.
Mr. Scott: (01:56:26)
General McKenzie, you answered a lot of the questions that I had in your written testimony. You did say that in April is when you were given effectively a change of mission to the 650. What date in April was that?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:56:41)
It was on the 15th, 14th-
Mr. Scott: (01:56:45)
15, so mid April.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:56:46)
Mr. Scott: (01:56:47)
When did we inform our partner forces that we had a change in mission, and that we were going to retrograde from the 2,500 down to 650?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:56:58)
That followed immediately, and that was [crosstalk 01:57:00] headquarters on the ground through process of outreach, both to President Ghani and to other members. It might’ve taken a couple of days for that process, but it was not kept [crosstalk 01:57:10].
Mr. Scott: (01:57:09)
It wasn’t a secret. Very quick, was the 650 included in the 2,500, or is the 650 an addition to the 2,500 number-
Gen. McKenzie: (01:57:16)
The 650 were different capabilities in the 2,500.
Mr. Scott: (01:57:20)
So it would have been a total of 3, 150?
Gen. McKenzie: (01:57:22)
No. When we went from 2,500 down to an effective zero, we said we would keep 650.
Mr. Scott: (01:57:28)
They went from [crosstalk 01:57:29].
Gen. McKenzie: (01:57:29)
Chairman Smith: (01:57:30)
Gentleman’s time has expired. They went from 2,500 to 650, as I understand it, on their way to.
Gen. McKenzie: (01:57:35)
That is correct, sir. But the capabilities were different. There were different forces to do different things.
Chairman Smith: (01:57:40)
Crucial point. Thank you. Mr. Moulton is recognized.
Mr. Moulton: (01:57:44)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Milley and Secretary Austin, my first question to you at our hearing on June 23rd was, why have you not started the evacuation of our allies already? You responded that we have a, “Moral imperative to save the Afghans who worked by our side.” Secretary Austin you said earlier today that moving too slow with the evacuation would put our troops at risk. I want to know what you did personally, all three of you, between that June 23rd hearing and August 15th when Kabul fell, to meet that moral imperative. Now, I hope it’s a long list of things so I’ll take that for the record. But let me ask you this, do you believe you did enough, Chairman Milley?
General Milley: (01:58:25)
I do. I think that we provided the advice necessary at the time, I think. Yes.
Mr. Moulton: (01:58:30)
Sec. Austin: (01:58:32)
I think you heard me say at my opening comments that we engaged state early on to provide input to their decision-making process on when to move the SIVs and-
Mr. Moulton: (01:58:45)
I understand that Mr. Secretary. You said that you and the state department followed the advice of the Ghani government that taking out SIVs would precipitate a government collapse. Yet the vast majority of these heroes weren’t even working for us or the government anymore because they supported a force of up to a hundred thousand US troops over 20 years, and we only had 2,500 troops left. Why on earth did you trust President Ghani?
Sec. Austin: (01:59:09)
Again, not my decision. To your point, I had input to that decision making process, but it’s not as if I was influenced by President Ghani.
Mr. Moulton: (01:59:20)
I understand Mr. Secretary. You’ve said this repeatedly, that this is state’s responsibility. What responsibility do you have for the Afghans who stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops? How many do you commit to getting out by the end of the year?
Sec. Austin: (01:59:32)
I have a responsibility to get out as many as I can over time. How many do I commit to getting out? Everyone that I can.
Mr. Moulton: (01:59:42)
General McKenzie, there are reports that DOD reduced airstrikes as early as May when troops were just beginning to withdraw, then had to ramp them back up after the Taliban gain ground. There are also reports that you sat down with the Taliban leadership in August, drew a circle around Kabul and told them that if the Taliban fighters went inside that circle, they would get hit with US airstrikes. Why did you let up on the Taliban first at the beginning of may, and then at the end of our withdrawal in August, right when we should’ve been hitting them harder to give Americans and Afghan partners time to evacuate?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:00:18)
Representative, the report about me meeting with the Taliban and telling them if they came inside a 30 kilometer circle around Kabul is simply factually incorrect.
Mr. Moulton: (02:00:25)
Okay. What about May?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:00:27)
In May, as through the rest of our redeployment period, we continued strikes on the Taliban. Those strikes, however, were limited to support of Afghan forces in close combat. We were not striking deep, and we did not have a tremendous amount of resources compared to resources that we’ve had in the past. Those strikes while effective in certain tactical situations, at no time were enough to change the strategic calculus of the campaign.
Mr. Moulton: (02:00:52)
General McKenzie, you went from 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in April, to 650 in July, and then turned around and put 5,000 back into Kabul. Now you’ve said repeatedly that you personally believe the Afghan government would fall if we didn’t maintain a certain number of troops in country. Why didn’t you plan for an evacuation and leave enough troops on the ground to conduct it?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:01:13)
Let’s be very clear. The evacuation has to be ordered by the Department of State. The drawdown of US forces was ordered by the president in April and completed in July. The non-combatant evacuation operation is a separate mission and it was not completely under the control of the department-
Mr. Moulton: (02:01:27)
So you’re going to fall back on the bureaucracy, the divide between DOD and state-
Gen. McKenzie: (02:01:31)
Well, representative I’m going to fall back [crosstalk 02:01:32].
Mr. Moulton: (02:01:32)
All of those troops out and then had to put more back in?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:01:35)
I’m going to fall back on the orders that I receive, representative.
Mr. Moulton: (02:01:39)
Secretary Austin, you presided in part over the withdrawal of forces from Iraq, though I know you at times requested more troops on the ground. Two years later, we had to send thousands of troops back into Iraq. Do you believe we will ever have to send troops back into Afghanistan?
Sec. Austin: (02:01:56)
Well, I certainly want to engage in a hypothetical. I would just say that obviously that’s a decision that has to be made by the president and while I won’t rule anything out, I would just say it’s not preordained that we will go back or have to go back into Afghanistan again. But if we do, the military will provide good, credible options to be able to do that to be effective. On the-
Mr. Moulton: (02:02:23)
When you and your predecessors asked tens of thousands of young Americans to fight in Afghanistan, they did. Thousands died. Now you keep saying that our troops should be proud of that. Well, here’s a question sent to me by one of those soldiers. “In 20 years our troops on the ground never lost a single battle yet we lost the war-
Chairman Smith: (02:02:42)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Moulton: (02:02:44)
While we leave our allies-
Chairman Smith: (02:02:45)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Moulton: (02:02:46)
What is left to be proud of?
Chairman Smith: (02:02:48)
Seth, we’re trying to run a meeting here, and if you wanted to read that letter, you should have read it in the first five minutes when you had time. I think it’s something we need to hear and it’s something we should have heard during the five minutes that you had. The gentleman’s time has expired. Sorry. Ms. Stefanik is recognized. She is appearing virtually. Ms. Stefanik, you’re recognized for five minutes.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:03:13)
Thank you, Chairman Smith. I want to first start off by saying that I’m honored and privileged to represent [inaudible 02:03:18] division. The most deployed division in the US army since 9/11. I want to take this opportunity to thank every soldier, every servicemen and women for deployment after deployment, after the past two decades. The [inaudible 02:03:36], this committee and this country are forever grateful for your service and sacrifice of both you and your families.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:03:44)
I want to direct my question, the first question to you on the panel today. It’s about the evacuation and force protection efforts at the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Force protection efforts were made specifically as the ISIS-K threat intelligence came in before and after the suicide bombing at the airport.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:04:06)
Representative first of all, the 10th Mountain was a key part of our defense there at the airport and I certainly appreciate their contribution to it. Force protection is something we balanced all the time against the requirement to let people come in and be processed and get on the airplanes. We looked at that every day. As you know, those two things are in tension and you have to balance them every day. We had over 300 credible intelligence reports of ISIS-K plans to attack the airport. Turns out that they were able to carry out one successful suicide vest attack, they also launched rockets at us. There were many other attacks that we were able to either vector Taliban elements onto to prevent, or perhaps the Taliban were able to prevent those by the outer courting that they established. But force protection was a key thing that we balanced throughout the entire operation, and we thought the risk was very high at all time. Again, principally from ISIS-K, and I’ll pause there, ma’am.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:05:04)
I’m going to follow up. We depended upon the Taliban for security to get the evacuees and Americans behind enemy lines into the airport. Did the United States or coalition forces provide money, any form of payment or assistance to the Taliban to expedite the evacuation of Americans as the security environment in Kabul deteriorated?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:05:28)
No, we did not. What we did was, we asked the Taliban to establish a cordon about 1,000 meters, one kilometer, beyond each of the gates, where we could reduce the number of people that were coming down and showing up at the gates so we wouldn’t have the possibility of a mass attack. They did that. They were not compensated or rewarded in any way for that. It was a very pragmatic, businesslike discussion. I don’t trust the Taliban. I didn’t trust him then. I don’t trust them now. That was the method, the way we approached it.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:05:58)
Thank you General McKenzie. Secretary Austin, I just want to get the department on record in addition to General McKenzie’s answer. There was no form of payment by the US or coalition forces at any time during the evacuation to the Taliban?
Sec. Austin: (02:06:15)
To my knowledge, there was none.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:06:19)
General Milley: (02:06:21)
I have no knowledge of any money that transmitted from any element of the United States government to the Taliban whatsoever.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:06:29)
My next question is, we are 20 years from the attacks on 9/11. I obviously am from the state of New York and it is a very, very solemn occasion for all Americans, but particularly New Yorkers every year as we commemorate that date. I would like to get your assessment. Is the terrorist threat from Afghanistan greater today or lesser than it was pre 9/11. I’ll start with you Chairman Milley.
General Milley: (02:07:00)
I think right this minute it is lesser than it was in 9/11. However, I think the conditions are set or could be set, and I testified to this yesterday and say it again, I’ve said it in public many times. The conditions could be set for a reconstitution of Al-Qaeda and or ISIS, and I gave some specific times in my statement and I stand by those. I think that it’s a real possibility in the not too distant future. 6, 12, 18, 24, 36 months. That time, the timeframe, for reconstitution of Al-Qaeda or ISIS, and it’s our job now, under different conditions, but it’s our job to continue to protect American citizens against attacks from Afghanistan.
Ms. Stefanik: (02:07:38)
Secretary Austin, your response to that question?
Sec. Austin: (02:07:42)
I would agree with General Milley that Al-Qaeda has been degraded over time. Now, terrorist organizations seek ungoverned spaces so that they can train and equip and thrive. And so there is clearly a possibility that that can happen here going forward. Our goal is to maintain a laser-like focus on this so that it doesn’t happen.
Chairman Smith: (02:08:11)
I apologize, the gentle lady’s time has expired. Mr. Carbajal is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. Carbajal: (02:08:18)
Thank you Mr. Chair. Thank you to all our witnesses that are here today. I want to start by, just one of the things I like about this committee is that we’re pretty bi-partisan, but every once in a while the partisan beast comes out. I’m sure it happens from both sides of the aisle. This is my third term here. The administration from the other party not in power is oftentimes, depending what perspective you come to it, one is doing everything right and the other one is doing everything wrong. I think it’s important to shed light on things irrespective of the partisanship. One can argue that the agreement that President Trump reached with the terrorist Taliban in February 2020 was less than perfect. We should call that that from both sides of the aisle. We can also argue that the exit, from the withdrawal was less than perfect.
Mr. Carbajal: (02:09:27)
I certainly can say that I supported the Trump administration and the Biden administration in its goal to withdraw from Afghanistan. But again, it’s been less than perfect. And so for me, I just want to shed a little bit of light on and refresh some of the memory on some of the numbers, going back a little ways. General Milley, I want to make sure that I understand our troop levels since the Doha Agreement that was reached with the terrorists, Taliban, signed by President Trump between February 2020, when the agreement with the Taliban was signed, to January 2021. How many troops did the United States withdraw from Afghanistan? How many troops were withdrawn from January 2017 to January 2021?
General Milley: (02:10:26)
12,600 US troops when the Doha Agreement was signed on that day.
Mr. Carbajal: (02:10:35)
Can you repeat that again?
General Milley: (02:10:37)
12,600 US troops on 29 February 2020, with 8,000 NATO and 10,500 contractors, and the contractors are particularly important here. With respect to on inauguration day, I’m showing 3,500 US troops, that’s the 2,500 advisers and then there was some additional enablers that were there. 3,500 US troops on 20 January, 5,400 NATO and 6,300 contractors in Afghanistan on that day.
Mr. Carbajal: (02:11:09)
Thank you. I only draw attention to that to show the withdrawal that started many years before. Secretary Austin and General Milley, over the course of the 20 years in Afghanistan, the United States special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, estimates that the United States spent $83 billion equipping and training the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, which included almost $10 billion in aircraft and vehicles. We all saw the unexpected and appalling rate of how quickly the Afghan military folded under pressure from the Taliban. What do you as trained and equipped efforts in Afghanistan, suggest about security, cooperation, operations going forward, and what aspects about train and equip efforts do you think the department should reassess?
Sec. Austin: (02:12:07)
I’ll turn it over to General Miller here very quickly, but I think we should reassess everything, soup to nuts. I think we put a valiant effort into providing the Afghans with a great capability, and at the end of the day that capability was not employed because the security force is fractured and essentially evaporated. We need to look at ourselves to see what we did and whether or not that’s the right thing to do going forward. Mark?
General Milley: (02:12:43)
In my view, congressman, I think when we do security force systems, one of the things we have to guard against is mirror imaging. I think from the very beginning with the army, the Afghan army, we wanted to create them in the image of the US army. I think our success story is the commandos with the special forces piece, but the broader army became a mirror image on our tact, in our doctrines, et cetera. That’s one point. Second point is the police forces that was assigned under the Bond agreement in 2002 to the Germans, the Germans wanted to make [inaudible 02:13:10] and that sort of thing. The third and last point is, they became dependent upon us, contractors, US air support, et cetera, and we have to avoid dependency on US forces.
Chairman Smith: (02:13:20)
Gentleman’s time has [crosstalk 02:13:22]. Dr. DesJarlais is recognized.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:13:24)
Thank you chairman, and thank you all for being here today to answer our questions. I’ve had so many questions come from constituents in Tennessee that there’s no way we can even begin to get through them in five minutes, but let’s jump right in. General Milley, on Bagram, in your professional military opinion, which facility, HKIA or Bagram Airfield, would have been most efficient in conducting the evacuation that we were forced to do?
General Milley: (02:13:52)
HKIA, and there’s a reason for that. The majority, the vast majority of those personnel that we expected to have to conduct a Neo with were located in Kabul. That’s point one. Point two is, we were directed to maintain an embassy open and also the international zone for the other allied nations so we had to do it out of HKIA. Bagram would have been a plus, but it would have required exceptional levels of resources to do that.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:14:17)
Okay. I think all of you testified yesterday that it wasn’t a matter of if the Afghan army would fail and the Taliban would take over, is a matter of when, you were all shocked by the rate at which it happened. The billions of dollars in equipment that was left behind has been under much scrutiny. Knowing that they were going to fail, why were more steps not taken to secure that military equipment or destroy it, knowing that now it’s a well-equipped Taliban army?
Sec. Austin: (02:14:52)
Yeah. The number is a big number, so let me unpack that a little bit. First of all, 84 billion included all of the-
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:15:01)
I understand that. Let’s just cut right to the equipment that was left behind. Why was so much left behind? Aircraft, MRAPs, weapons, why was that there when you knew they were going to fail?
Sec. Austin: (02:15:10)
The other thing I would say is that all of the equipment that we had, that we were using, as I stated earlier, was evacuated by General Milley. Now, the reason that the Afghans had the equipment they had is because we wanted them to be successful and they could not be successful without the-
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:15:29)
If they’re watching these hearings yesterday and today, I’m guessing that they probably feel like they were played as fools, because you all just said you knew they were going to fail. Here we have an army we built up, we used them until we didn’t need them anymore to accomplish Biden’s objective and Trump’s objective of getting out Afghanistan. However, it went horribly wrong as we can probably all agree to. General Milley, you started today and talked about your commitment to your office. You’re the principal military advisor to the president, correct?
General Milley: (02:16:02)
That is correct.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:16:03)
That’s to President Trump and President Biden?
General Milley: (02:16:06)
That’s correct. And the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:16:10)
Okay. Senator Blackburn yesterday asked you about your conversations with several book writers and you were fine with giving them your opinion. I think you said that you had a rather blunt forward phone call with House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
General Milley: (02:16:25)
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:16:27)
She was concerned over the safety of nuclear weapons.
General Milley: (02:16:30)
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:16:31)
Okay. In a transcript obtained from CNN political Woodward and Costa quoted Pelosi as saying, and this was to you, “What I’m saying to you is that they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge of the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?” Do you recall that?
General Milley: (02:16:56)
I don’t. I haven’t seen the transcript.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:16:58)
I think that’d be firmly imprinted on [crosstalk 02:17:00].
General Milley: (02:17:02)
I would just say there’s a lot of disparaging comments made at the end. And that my focus was to assure her that the nuclear system and weapons are under control.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:17:12)
According to Costa and Woodward, she went on to say, “You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.” To which they say, and I’m sure you haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. Milley responded, “Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.” If you’re the principal advisor to the president and she said that to you, do you think that you were doing service to a president by agreeing with the speaker that your commander in chief is crazy?
General Milley: (02:17:38)
I actually said I’m not qualified to assess the mental health of the president. What I’m agreeing to is that we have to have a secure nuclear system.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:17:47)
[crosstalk 02:17:47] any conversations with the speaker or any of our foreign leaders about our current president’s mental capacity? We have a physician right here on the panel who was the personal physician, prior three presidents, who said President Biden should take a mental competency test. We see it in the press, his lack of ability to answer questions. Have you had any conversations with anybody concerning his ability to carry out a nuclear order or any other serious engagements?
General Milley: (02:18:13)
No. My answer would be the same. I’m not qualified to evaluate a president’s mental health or your mental health or anybody’s mental health. I’m not a doctor.
Dr. DesJarlais: (02:18:20)
But you were concerned about Trump. You said you were concerned about him when you made the calls to China.
General Milley: (02:18:25)
No, I didn’t. What I said to the call to China was I guarantee you that President Trump is not going to attack you in a surprise attack. I was carrying out his intent, President Trump’s intent in order to protect the American people, prevent an escalation or an incident.
Chairman Smith: (02:18:46)
That was helpful. Mr. Brown is recognized.
Mr. Brown: (02:18:50)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Each of my questions have been asked and answered this morning. Therefore, I’ll use this seldom opportunity with the two most senior officials of the Pentagon to make a statement. We cannot ask our men and women in uniform to fight forever wars, and I commend President Biden for recognizing this reality and bringing our troops home. But we know the threats facing our country aren’t solely on distant battlefields. For decades we’ve grappled with extremist ideologies within our own civilian communities and our military ranks, and there are no signs that we’re winning this fight.
Mr. Brown: (02:19:23)
As the FBI director Ray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, January six was not an isolated event. Director Ray stated the problem of domestic extremism has been metastasized and across the country for a long time now, and then it’s not going away anytime soon. We know now that 12% of those charged in the riot on the Capitol have military experience, with at least one indicted rioter on active military duty. That’s well above the participant patient rate of adults in the military. The last time you both were before this committee, you spoke about the issue of extremism in our armed forces. General Milley you stated from private to general there’s no…
Mr. Brown: (02:20:03)
…Armed Forces. General Milley, you stated, “From private to general, there’s no room for extremist behavior in the United States military.” And I commend you, secretary Austin, for ordering the extremism stand down this past February to deal with the threat. You recognize this issue within the ranks, but I’m gravely concerned that too many of our military leaders do not. In April, at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing, STRATCOM Commander, Admiral Richard said he was, “Very confident that the number of extremists in my forces is zero.” And at the same hearing General Dickinson, Commander of Space Command, echoed that assessment claiming, “In the formations that I’ve had throughout my career, I have not seen that. So I believe it’s close to zero in my organization. If not zero.”
Mr. Brown: (02:20:46)
This ignores the clear evidence on this issue. A 2019 military time survey found more than one third of active duty service members have witnessed white nationalism or ideologically driven racism in the ranks. You, yourself, Secretary Austin, spoke of your experiences with extremism while you were in uniform. The Army CIDs 2020 Gang and Domestic Extremist Activity Threat Assessment found a 66% increase in gang or domestic extremist activity from the previous year. And then, in October of 2020, a Pentagon report to Congress detailed how domestic extremists actively recruit military personnel.
Mr. Brown: (02:21:26)
We have a problem, the scope of which we don’t fully understand. But Democrats and Republicans have asked the department for a definition of extremism, improved screening processes, and a status report on implementation of recommendations. We still have not yet re received it. We have not received it. Which is why just last week, the house passed the fiscal year ’22 NDAA, giving DOD additional authorities and resources to counter extremism in the department. So I was extremely disappointed to see the administration statement of policy, which opposes the counter extremism provisions in the NDAA citing overburdensome training and data collection requirements, not a single sentence suggesting how to improve the provisions, just opposition to Congress.
Mr. Brown: (02:22:12)
Congress is about to authorize and appropriate $768 billion to the department. Nearly $25 billion more than the president’s budget request. Yet the administration views additional data collection and training requirements to counter the threat of extremism as onerous? We heard the same pushback when it came to addressing sexual assault in the military for 10 years before the department finally realized it was failing and that it needed greater tools. And we’ve documented systemic racism under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for at least 50 years yet the department is making little, if any, progress to address that. Whether it’s sexual assault or racial injustice, the department repeatedly tells Congress, “We can handle it. Commanders are responsible. We’re studying it. We’re ready to fight tonight.”
Mr. Brown: (02:22:59)
We cannot wait years, let alone decades, in the face of obstinance from the department before meeting the challenges of extremism in the Armed Forces. The time to address it is now. As this hearing reveals, there are many important issues for our military to address. In addition to the ongoing American Afghan evacuations and anticipated over the rise in operations. We’ve got to care for our troops and the families. And that includes combating extremism in your formations in a way that we can take care of our troops and secure the nation. So please stop fighting Congress. Partner with us and accept the tools that you need to fix the problem. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. Chairman: (02:23:46)
Thank you. Mr. Kelly is recognized.
Mr. Kelly: (02:23:48)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you all for being here and, Chairman Milley, I just want to start, I understand the conversation with the Chinese leader. What I don’t understand is you going to the press, Chairman Milley. That disappoints me that you talk to the press about that. None of the other stuff. I’m okay with that. I’m not okay with you talking to the press or authors. I want to talk just a little bit about Bagram. There’s two runways at Bagram and only one at HKIA. Is that correct?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:24:21)
That is correct.
Mr. Kelly: (02:24:22)
So there’s strategic value to two runways versus one. You would agree with that?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:24:25)
It’s entirely dependent on the mission.
Mr. Kelly: (02:24:27)
Yeah. And the other thing is there’s standoff versus the urban environment. And there are strategic advantages and disadvantages to that. You would agree with that, General McKinney?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:24:34)
Mr. Kelly: (02:24:35)
Okay. Now I want to talk a little bit about the strike on August the 29th, I think. Who set the rules of engagement? Where were the rules of engagement? At what level?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:24:49)
So under the rules of engagement, we;d would need to get into details in a classified setting. [crosstalk 02:24:53].
Mr. Kelly: (02:24:53)
No, I don’t want to know what the rules of engagement were. I want to know whose rules of engagement were they?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:24:57)
The US military’s rules of engagement.
Mr. Kelly: (02:24:59)
Was that President Biden’s? Was that Secretary Austin’s? Was that CENTCOM’s?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:25:03)
They are wholly neutral as to the party in power. Has nothing to do with the rules of engagement.
Mr. Kelly: (02:25:08)
Okay. I want to refer to a New York Times article on March 3rd, described a policy change of the Biden administration that placed greater restrictions on drone strikes and raids conducted outside conventional battlefield zones. Previously authorized by ground commanders, these operations now require White House approval. Did the strike on August 28th or 29th, the one that killed 10 innocents, did it require presidential approval prior to the strike?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:25:37)
No, it did not.
Mr. Kelly: (02:25:38)
Okay. At what level, who was the approval authority for that strike?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:25:41)
The Target Engagement Authority was [inaudible 02:25:44] at the over the horizon cell that oversees those activities.
Mr. Kelly: (02:25:48)
At what level? One star? Two star? Three star.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:25:52)
Flag Officer level.
Mr. Kelly: (02:25:53)
Flag Officer level. Okay. And at what point, General McKenzie, and this is for all three of you, at what point did you know that the strike was bad? That it hit civilians?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:26:06)
So we knew the strike hit civilians within four or five hours after the strike occurred. And US Central Command released a press release saying that. We did not know though that the target of the strike was in fact a mistake until sometime later. Took us a few days to run that down. But we knew pretty soon after the strike [crosstalk 02:26:27].
Mr. Kelly: (02:26:26)
Okay. Good deal. Secretary Austin, when did you know it was a bad strike that killed civilians?
Sec. Austin: (02:26:33)
As soon as General McKenzie reported that there were civilians that had been injured.
Mr. Kelly: (02:26:39)
So four or five hours’ timeframe. That’s all I need.
Sec. Austin: (02:26:42)
Right. Typically, as soon as that happens, we investigate, we begin an investigation.
Mr. Kelly: (02:26:46)
No. When did you know that civilians were killed in that strike? That’s my question. It’s real easy. It’s a time. It doesn’t take much to answer that.
Sec. Austin: (02:26:54)
Right. Several hours after that.
Mr. Kelly: (02:26:56)
Okay. General Milley, same?
General Milley: (02:26:58)
Mr. Kelly: (02:26:59)
Okay. So I’m assuming there’s 15 sixes at multiple levels that we’ll get to see those investigations. There’s a lot of questions I have that have to be in a classified environment, but I hope that you guys know I also sit on a different committee that has different insight to this. And I think it’s important that we know who authorized at what level, and that we take accountability. Listen, I’ve made strikes, I’ve lived under rules of engagement, I’ve had rules of engagements I liked and didn’t like, I’ve had to make hard decisions. I hope most of them were right. But I understand. I don’t want to blame some 06 or some 05. I want to make sure we get the level and that the rules of engagement were proper and that they were followed at whatever level who didn’t follow those, or either wrote those. Because I think the strike was done to show we had over the horizon capabilities and we didn’t. Because we reported a secondary explosion that was not, we reported all kinds of stuff. Now my next question is the other strike. Who did we kill?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:28:05)
I’d prefer to pass you that name in a classified setting.
Mr. Kelly: (02:28:07)
Okay. Can you tell me, was it an HVT or just a low level terrorist?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:28:10)
I think it was a facilitator and it was a good strike. I think we got someone who, while not directly involved in the attack on Abbey Gate on the 26th, certainly fell within that circle of accomplices.
Mr. Kelly: (02:28:21)
In a classified I’d like to know that. And then my next question is, I just don’t understand. I guess maybe I went to a Union Public High School of 1100. My math, 11 to 15,000 UT citizens, 5,400 out, that leaves thousands, not hundreds left that want to get out. And I know for a fact, every office here, we had people calling us wanting to get out. US citizens that were not allowed to get in the gate or were kicked off the base or were not allowed out. And with that, I just ask guys, we got to get our folks home. I yield back.
Mr. Chairman: (02:28:51)
[inaudible 02:28:51] yields back. Mr. Conna [phonetic 02:28:53] is recognized.
Speaker 2: (02:28:54)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Milley, I want to first thank you for your 42 years of service, for your principled commitment to civilian rule, for your commitment to military to military communication that kept this country safe for three decades during the Cold War, and for the sacrifice and patriotism that you and your family has shown. As the son of immigrants, I’m in your family’s debt. And I want to thank the three of you for ending America’s longest war and executing the largest airlift in history. Now, Secretary Austin, you’ve testified that had 2,500 troops stayed past the deadline, the military would likely have needed reinforcements. And I want to just make this clear, the choice for President Biden wasn’t zero troops or 2,500 troops. It was zero troops or potentially many more troops. General Milley, just briefly, would you agree that at some point more than 2,500 troops would have been needed had the Taliban engaged in offensive strikes?
General Milley: (02:30:04)
I’m sorry, there’s a reasonable prospect we would’ve had to increase forces past 2,500 given that the Taliban very likely was going to start attacking us. And there’s a range of forces. We’re really talking 2500 to 4500, in that range.
Speaker 2: (02:30:18)
I appreciate that. I want to talk about the strike that killed civilians. And look, I think our military cares more about the loss of civilian life than any military in the world, any superpower ever in history. And that’s why I think we ought to talk about this candidly. And I brought pictures of the seven children who were killed, along with the three adults, to remind us that this is not what America wants, this is something that we need to prevent in the future. Press Secretary Kirby, who did a fine job during those 10 days, said you would support evacuating these family members as they have requested and resettling them in the US. Is that correct, Secretary Austin?
Sec. Austin: (02:31:01)
Speaker 2: (02:31:02)
My question is can we get the family and the coworkers evacuated now and brought to safety? I get the legal hoops, but could that happen after? Can we just get them in to the US or some safe place?
Sec. Austin: (02:31:17)
We’ll continue to work through State Department channels to engage the family. And if they desire to leave, then we’ll certainly do everything we can to facilitate getting them out.
Speaker 2: (02:31:29)
I hope we can just expedite that and expedite the compensation. It’s the moral thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, it’s how America conducts itself. And so I hope you will take that into consideration. General McKenzie, I admire and respect your leadership, but I want to see how we can improve the intelligence to prevent these kind of strikes in the future. One aspect you said is that there was a white Toyota Corolla that led to the attacks. I’m sure you’re aware, is there any car more common than a Toyota Corolla in Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:32:04)
It’s a very common car. Of course there were many other factors that went into that decision. Not simply the fact it was a Toyota Corolla.
Speaker 2: (02:32:11)
According to the Stars and Stripes, roughly 90% of cars registered in Afghanistan have been Corollas. One of the other things that concerned me is, based on my reading, and obviously you know more, the Corolla was parked next to a US registered California based NGO that was delivering humanitarian assistance. And I guess the question is, did the DOD know about the NGO in advance of the strike?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:32:38)
Since that’s under investigation now, I’d like to defer that question.
Speaker 2: (02:32:42)
I would just hope that we can make sure going forward that our department will crosscheck its intelligence to make sure that aid organizations are on no strike lists. I assume that if there is a aid organization or hospital, those are on no strike lists?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:33:01)
Representative, as are mosques, which are often used by ISIS-K as training sites as well.
Speaker 2: (02:33:06)
Right. Again, I believe that our military goes through extraordinary lengths to prevent this. It’s not to try to be an indictment of anyone. I just want to make sure we continue to improve the processes and that we do right by the families who suffered this unspeakable tragedy. Thank you again to the three of you for your leadership and thank you to everyone who’s served. Regardless of one’s view on Afghanistan, I find the attacks on your integrity and patriotism to be a dishonor to this committee and a dishonor to your service.
Mr. Chairman: (02:33:42)
Thank you, [inaudible 02:33:43]. Time expired. I have to ask the witnesses a question, a little complicated scheduling thing going on here. We are scheduled to have votes at 1:30 ish. My plan would be to, if we could go to that period, get through that, take the break then, but it’s been a while. If you need a break earlier, we can take a 15 minute break at 12:30. And I wish there was an easier way to do this, but totally up to you. Would you like to break at 12:30 or would you like to just go until votes?
Sec. Austin: (02:34:19)
I think we’re good for right now, Chairman.
Mr. Chairman: (02:34:22)
Okay. If you need a break, just you know.
Sec. Austin: (02:34:25)
We’ll fire the star cluster.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:34:28)
We all have overprotective aids who are pounding on us that, “They need a break. They need a break.” So I just figured I’d ask. So we will proceed and I appreciate that. Mr. Gallagher is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:34:39)
Thank you. General McKenzie, the Washington Post reported on August 28th that the Taliban offered to allow the US military to take responsibility for security in Kabul. Did you meet with Mullah Baradar to discuss such an offer?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:34:52)
I met with Mullah Baradar in Doha on 15 August to pass a message to him that we were withdrawing and if they attempted to disrupt that withdrawal, we would punish them severely for that.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:01)
But did he offer to allow you to have security over all of Kabul? Not just the airport.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:06)
As part of that conversation, he said, “Why don’t you just take security for all of Kabul?” That was not why I was there. That was not my instruction. And we did not have the resources to undertake that mission.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:16)
Did you convey the offer, however, to the president?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:19)
The offer was made in the presence of the president’s special representative to Afghanistan?
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:23)
Do you know if the SRAP conveyed it to the president?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:25)
I don’t know, but it was conveyed to my chain of command.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:27)
So who made the decision to turn down the Taliban off offer to allow the US military to secure Kabul and put the safety of our troops in the hands of the Taliban?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:36)
I did not consider that to be a formal offer and it was not the reason why I was there, so I did not pursue it. So if someone actually made a decision, that would’ve been me.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:44)
So we don’t know if it was conveyed to the President.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:46)
I do know it was conveyed to my chain of command.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:35:48)
Okay. In military terms, what do you call the treat of military forces under security provided by and with the permission of enemy forces?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:35:58)
Don’t know. I’ve never done one of those operations.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:00)
I think you just did one of those operations.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:01)
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:02)
You disagree. So you did not withdraw forces from Afghanistan after a negotiation with the Taliban.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:10)
That is correct. We did not do that.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:11)
Okay. So this would not be a conditional surrender in your opinion?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:15)
This would not be a conditional surrender.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:16)
So what would you describe the operation?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:17)
I would describe it as a non-combatant evacuation operation that we conducted with our own timing and with our own forces. And we warned the Taliban that if they interfered with that operation, we would strike them hard. They chose not to interfere with that operation.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:30)
Okay. So you’re saying the meeting you had in Doha was just to let the Taliban know this is what we’re doing, take it or leave it. But you were operating at that point under the agreement we had negotiated with the Taliban for surrender, right? The Doha Agreement.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:44)
I was there to tell the Taliban that we were conducting an non-combatant evacuation operation.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:36:48)
Wait, a NEO, by DOD definition, does not definitionally include the evacuation of combatants. You were also evacuating combatants. So the NEO was part of the operation.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:36:57)
Actually, no, you’re wrong. When I met with the Taliban on 15 August, we had completed the withdrawal operation. Further forces that went in were forces that were core to the NEO operation. And in fact, DOD doctrine would include the insertion and extraction of combatant forces as part of a NEO operation. I’ve done a few of them.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:37:15)
What do we call the withdrawal of combatants? Whether it happened before or after?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:37:19)
It could be called a retrograde, it could be called a withdrawal.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:37:21)
Retrograde. Was it in your orders though? What were you tasked with doing?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:37:24)
I was tasked to conduct a non-combatant evacuation operation.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:37:28)
Which you just said happened after you had withdrawn forces.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:37:31)
Largely, that’s correct.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:37:33)
Okay. And what did the tasking to withdraw the forces call that operation?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:37:37)
I would have to go back and take a look at it. I believe it was a withdrawal.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:37:40)
Withdrawal. Okay. Which I believe the definition is a repositioning of forces. I would call it a conditional surrender. I guess we’ll have to check the dictionary definition on that. Just to go to something that General Milley said before, has Al-Qaeda sworn [inaudible 02:37:57] to the Taliban?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:37:59)
I believe there’s a deep relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:02)
But have they sworn [inaudible 02:38:04]. Just yes or no.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:05)
I couldn’t answer that question for you right now.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:07)
Oh, I believe General Milley said it before. Has the Taliban renounced the previous oath that Al-Qaeda swore [crosstalk 02:38:16]?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:16)
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have a very close relationship. And I do not expect the Taliban to seriously interfere with their basing and repositioning in Afghanistan, which is I think the question you’re asking.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:26)
Okay. Yeah. Let me get at it a different way. The new interior minister for the Taliban government is [inaudible 02:38:30]. He’s a known Al-Qaeda associate. Is there any evidence that he or the Haqqani network has broken with Al-Qaeda?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:36)
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:37)
Did the March attack on Fab Chapman breach the Doha Agreement in your opinion?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:45)
No, it did not.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:46)
It did not. General McKenzie, do you know which Taliban forces were actually providing security in front of the airport?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:53)
Yes, we do.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:38:54)
Was it Badri 313?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:38:56)
They were part of it. There were other elements as well. It was a hodgepodge of units.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:00)
Budge Badri 313 was among part of it.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:39:01)
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:02)
Among others. A group that specializes in suicide bombing attacks. Had the suicide bomber been in prison? I think you suggested to Congresswoman Hartzler that the suicide bomber might have been in prison in Bagram before? Do we know?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:39:15)
I don’t recall suggesting that.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:17)
Okay. Do we know whether he had been?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:39:19)
We are still working very hard to find out where the suicide bomber came from.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:22)
Did we have an opportunity to take him out prior to the suicide bombing attack?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:39:26)
We did not.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:27)
We did not have an opportunity to take him out. And just finally, does the over horizon posture that we’re now adopting, will that be more or less difficult now that we are out of the country?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:39:37)
I’ve said on the record, it will be very difficult to do. It is not impossible to do.
Mr. Gallagher: (02:39:41)
Okay. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman: (02:39:41)
Time has expired. Mr. Kim is recognized.
Mr. Kim: (02:39:45)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General McKenzie, I wanted to start with you. You said reports about you engaging with the Taliban about a red line around Kabul before its fall were false. Does that mean that there was no discussion or consideration in the US of a plan to defend Kabul in early August before its fall?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:40:03)
There was never a discussion about a plan to defend Kabul before its fall. I will say that when I went to Doha, I took with me a graphic. It was a map of Kabul with a 30 kilometer ring on the outside. Our original proposal was we would ask the Taliban to stay outside that ring, but we were not going to threaten them. We felt that was the best way to do deconfliction. However, on the day of the meeting, they were already in downtown Kabul. So the graphic was outdated and we had to proceed from the new reality.
Mr. Kim: (02:40:29)
Secretary Austin, I wanted to get your thoughts on this. When I spent some time in this situation with room with you in 2014, when we were fearing the fall of Herbil and Baghdad, US CENTCOM Commander immediately drove some CONOPS on defending those positions using air assets. The effort was to buy time for the Iraqis and the Iraqi Kerrs to reconstitute. Did it not cross your mind to consider something like that in early August before the fall of Kabul?
Sec. Austin: (02:40:57)
This is certainly something we considered. We took a look at what we would need to do to protect the embassy. And if we had to do a NEO, what could we do to buy time for that operation to take place?
Mr. Kim: (02:41:12)
Chairman Milley, I wanted to switch to you. Yesterday you said that you were asked on August 25th to make a decision about the August 31st deadline. Was there an actual formal request made to the Taliban by the United States to stay passed August 31st? Was that a request that was then denied that you were taken into account in that decision?
General Milley: (02:41:35)
I don’t make decisions, Congressman. I provide advice.
Mr. Kim: (02:41:37)
Then your recommendation.
General Milley: (02:41:38)
I was asked for what’s called best military advice. I’m not aware of a formal request to the Taliban one way or the other of staying past the 31st. I am very familiar with the advice that we provided on the 25th.
Mr. Kim: (02:41:53)
Before the fall of Kabul, did we actually have formal Taliban agreement upon an August 31st departure date?
General Milley: (02:42:02)
I’m not sure what you mean by formal.
Mr. Kim: (02:42:06)
Had there ever been a point where the United States to the Taliban saying that we are planning to leave on August 31st. And I’m talking about prior to the fall of Kabul.
General Milley: (02:42:14)
I think from a policy perspective, [inaudible 02:42:17] could give you the detailed information on that. I do believe the Taliban knew that we were departing on the 31st. We announced it.
Mr. Kim: (02:42:25)
But you weren’t aware of any [crosstalk 02:42:26].
General Milley: (02:42:26)
I’m not aware of a formal agreement per se, but I think [inaudible 02:42:29] could give you better definition of that.
Mr. Kim: (02:42:32)
General McKenzie, I want to turn back to you then. Because you were saying that you talked with the Taliban on August 15th. Did you use August 31st as a date to end operations? Was there a date set at all in your discussions with?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:42:44)
I did not use a specific date when I talked to them.
Mr. Kim: (02:42:46)
So no date was set on August 15th of when the US would depart.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:42:49)
I did not convey a specific date as part of my conversation.
Mr. Kim: (02:42:53)
I wanted to switch gears one more time here. Secretary Austin, moving forward, when we’re looking at the fundamental viability of the over the horizon effort, is the airspace over Afghanistan currently considered sovereign airspace? And I guess I’ll frame it in a slightly different way. Is it currently legal for the United States to conduct ISR swarties and airstrikes in Afghanistan?
Sec. Austin: (02:43:20)
Mr. Kim: (02:43:22)
Under what authority is that legal?
Sec. Austin: (02:43:25)
Well, same authorities we were using before.
Mr. Kim: (02:43:29)
And that would be under the Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014? Is that correct?
Sec. Austin: (02:43:38)
No. I think what we’re prosecuting now is are the authorities that were referred to by General McKenzie earlier. And he mentioned that he would have to take that into a classified setting.
Mr. Kim: (02:43:53)
Okay. Well, I’ll certainly follow with you that way. General McKenzie, something I wanted to follow up with you on. Yesterday in your hearing in front of the Senate, you made a comment when asked about the War on Terror and you said that the War on Terror is not over. But then you also went on and said that the War in Afghanistan is not over. So I just wanted a clarification from you. In your opinion, is the War in Afghanistan over?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:44:17)
So I believe the War in Afghanistan is not over. I believe we are no longer a party to that war, but that doesn’t mean that ISIS and the Taliban aren’t going to engage in a furious fight this fall that may result in ISIS being crushed or it may result in ISIS holding ground.
Mr. Kim: (02:44:31)
Oh, I see. So when you’re saying that you’re referring, you believe that there’s a civil war in Afghanistan, but in terms of the United States war against Afghanistan, you would say that that is over.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:44:42)
We have no forces in Afghanistan. Our only interest in Afghanistan is looking for ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda targets.
Mr. Chairman: (02:44:49)
Gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Kim: (02:44:50)
Thank you, Chairman. Mr. Gates is recognized.
Mr. Gates: (02:44:52)
February 26th, 2020, House Armed Services Committee, General Mark Milley. “We know we’re not going to defeat the Taliban militarily and they’re not going to defeat the government of Afghanistan militarily.” You really blew that call didn’t you, General?
General Milley: (02:45:10)
I believe that that was an issue of strategic stalemate. And that if we had remained in Afghanistan with the advisory levels of effort, then the government of Afghanistan [crosstalk 02:45:20].
Mr. Gates: (02:45:19)
Well that’s an interesting answer to a question, it’s just not one I asked. You spent more time with Bob Woodward on this book than you spent analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghanistan government was going to fall immediately to the Taliban, didn’t you?
General Milley: (02:45:33)
Not even close, Congressman.
Mr. Gates: (02:45:35)
Oh really? Because you said right after Kabul fell that no one could have anticipated the immediate fall of the Ghani government. When did you become aware that Joe Biden tried to get Ghani to lie about the conditions in Afghanistan? He did at that in July. Did you know that right away?
General Milley: (02:45:49)
I’m not aware of what President Biden…
Mr. Gates: (02:45:53)
You’re not aware of the phone call that Biden had with Ghani where he said whether it is true or not, we want you to go out there and paint a rosy picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan. You’re the chief military advisor to the President. You said that, “The Taliban was not going to defeat the government of Afghanistan militarily,” which by the way they cut through them like a hot knife through butter. And then the president tries to get Ghani to lie. When did you become aware of that attempt?
General Milley: (02:46:15)
Well, there’s two things there, Congressman, if I may. One is what I said was, one, that the situation was stalemate and if we kept advises with there, the government of Afghanistan and the Army would’ve still been there. That’s what I said. Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know.
Mr. Gates: (02:46:30)
Well it seems wrong now with Taliban in control [crosstalk 02:46:33]. I have a question for Secretary Austin. Secretary Austin, are you capable of assessing whether another has the will to fight?
Sec. Austin: (02:46:44)
No, we’re not. And that’s the point that the chairman made earlier.
Mr. Gates: (02:46:47)
That’s just an incredibly disappointing thing for the secretary of defense to simply say, I can’t assess whether someone has the will to fight, but it is consistent with your record. During the Obama administration, I think they gave you about $ 48 million to go train up some folks in Syria to go take on the Asad government. And I think your testimony was that only four or five survived first contact with the enemy. So what confidence should this committee have in you or should the country have in you when you’ve now confessed to us, and whether it’s the swing and a miss in Afghanistan that General Milley talked to the Senate about yesterday, total failure, or whether it was your failures in Syria, you don’t seem capable to look at a fighting force and determine whether or not they have the will. Is that embarrassing?
Sec. Austin: (02:47:30)
Well, you’ll recall, Congressman, that the end result was the SDF that we stood up that was very, very instrumental in turning the tide of battle up in Syria.
Mr. Gates: (02:47:43)
Oh yeah. Turned it so much you’ve got Asad in power in Syria, you’ve got the Taliban in power in Afghanistan. I mean, where have you been?
Sec. Austin: (02:47:50)
The focus was ISIS, Congressman. And those forces had significant effect on the ISIS network.
Mr. Gates: (02:48:00)
Well, it just seems like you’re chronically bad at this. And you have admitted that, I guess, which is to your credit. But when people in the military like Lieutenant Colonel Stewart-Sheller stand up and demand accountability, when they say that you all screwed up, when they point out that General Milley’s statement that the government of Afghanistan’s not going to get defeated by the Taliban. Well, he ends up in the brig and you all end up in front of us, and your former employer Raytheon ends up with a lot of money, and we have poured cash and blood and credibility into a Ghani government that was a mirage. It fell immediately. And while the guy sitting next to you was off talking to Phil Rucker and was off doing his thing with Bob Woodward, we were buying into the big lie. The big lie that this was ever going to be successful and that we could ever rely on the Afghanistan government for anything at all.
Mr. Gates: (02:48:55)
General Milley, you kind of gave up the game earlier when you said you wanted to address elements of your personal conduct that were in question. We’re not questioning your personal conduct, we’re questioning in your official capacity, going and undermining the chain of command, which is obviously what you did. You’ve created this whole chain [crosstalk 02:49:14] narrative.
Sec. Austin: (02:49:15)
I did not undermine the chain of command in any manner [crosstalk 02:49:16].
Mr. Gates: (02:49:16)
Yeah you did. You absolutely did.
Sec. Austin: (02:49:17)
I did not.
Mr. Gates: (02:49:18)
Well, you know what? You said yesterday that you weren’t going to resign when senators asked you this question. And I believe that you guys probably won’t resign. You seem to be very happy failing up over there. But if we didn’t have a president that was so addled, you all would be fired because that is what you deserve. You have let down the people who wear the uniform in my district and all around this country. And you’re far more interested in what your perception is and how people think about you and insider Washington books than you care about winning [crosstalk 00:02:49:53] incapable of doing.
Mr. Chairman: (02:49:56)
Gentleman’s time has expired. Ms. [inaudible 02:49:56] is recognized.
Speaker 3: (02:49:57)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. And, gentlemen, I apologize is for the behavior of my colleague. I’m deeply, deeply appreciative of your service and of the decades of experience that you all bring to this conversation. Thank you so much for the opportunity to ask important questions of you, questions that ought to be asked of you in the spirit of our responsibility of oversight rather than provocation. So I just have a couple of questions of clarification from this testimony that’s happened so far. And the first one is for you, General McKenzie. You mentioned something in your opening remarks about you having looked at different branches to account for the complete collapse of the government and the Afghan military. That’s the first time, frankly, that I’ve heard that scenario being articulated out loud. Most of the testimony that I’ve heard prior to this has been we could have never foreseen that. So, as somebody who’s a branching engineer type person, that’s what I do, I’m intrigued to see if that is indeed what you did have and what the likelihood you put to that and the cost that you associated with that would be.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:51:00)
So, as we drew the NEO plan, one of the assumptions of the NEO plan was that the Afghan military would be able to continue to secure HKIA, the airfield. Because the Turks were there, but they only actually secured a small fraction of the airfield, maybe 20% of it. The rest of that long perimeter around the entire runway was actually secured by Afghan military forces. So our assumption was they would continue to perform that function. But since we stated that as an assumption, by the way we plan, we have to say, if that assumption’s wrong, because an assumption is a future hypothetical condition that we believe is going to occur, we felt that was always something that we should challenge.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:51:40)
So we developed a plan if that assumption failed, if they melted away. So we had a branch plan that was developed as part of the overall NEO plan, where we would introduce adequate combat forces to physically take over securing the perimeter of that airfield in case the ANDSF did melt away. Well, as we got into the first week of August, it began to look increasingly likely that they would melt away. So I talked to the secretary, talked to the chairman, and we agreed to begin to flow forces in for that contingency.
Speaker 3: (02:52:09)
Thank you. And my question to you, related for the all three of you, and perhaps we’d start with you, General, is how long have you believed that the Afghan military might not be up to the task of taking over and maintaining security against the Taliban? We discussed a lot of different timelines over the course of the last few months. Has it been inevitable for five or 10 years? How long have you been relaying that information or that concern possibly to any of our senior leaders or senior administration? If you could share that with us as well.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:52:36)
Ma’am, so I’ll start. I think it actually, from the relatively short term perspective, I think the Doha Agreement, and the signing of the Doha agreement, had a really pernicious effect on the government of Afghanistan and on its military. Psychological more than anything else, but we set a date certain for when we were going to leave and when they could expect all assistance to end. So for the first time there was something out there in front of them. Now also, I think that’s an important thing.
Gen. McKenzie: (02:53:01)
The other point would be, it has been my position and my judgment that if we went below an advisory level of 2,500, I believe that the government of Afghanistan would likely collapse and that the military would follow. And one might go before the other, but I believe that was going to be the inevitable result of drawing down to zero. And I’ve expressed that opinion in writing for quite a while. Now, so taking a look at that, that was my best judgment on that. So going below 2,500, I think, was the other nail in the coffin, if you will, that led to conditions where first of all we could no longer see what was happening to the force because our advisors were no longer down there with those units. So let me give you an example. If we shipped a box of mortar rounds into Afghanistan, we would sign it over on the ramp at HKIA and the Afghans would truck it away. There would be nobody below that level to help them disperse it, to see if it went to the bazaar, or if it went down to the unit that needed mortar rounds.
Speaker 3: (02:53:58)
Thank you. I appreciate that. And, Secretary Austin, it looked like you had something to contribute as well.
Sec. Austin: (02:54:02)
Yeah. I certainly agree with comments that General McKenzie has made. I would just add to that that as a part of that agreement, we agreed to cease conducting air operations against the Taliban. So the Taliban got stronger, they increased their offensive operations against the Afghan security forces. And the Afghans were losing a lot of people on a weekly basis. In addition to that, we caused them to release 5,000 prisoners. And many of those prisoners went back to fill the ranks of the Taliban. So they got a lot stronger, they continued their attacks, we got smaller. And so I agree with General McKenzie, that’s when you could begin to see things really begin to go in a different direction.
Speaker 3: (02:54:52)
So with the last four seconds, I very much appreciate your time and very intriguing that it seems like the Doha Agreement might have been a pivotal point. And thank you. And with that I yield back.
Mr. Chairman: (02:55:01)
Thank you. Mr. Bacon is recognized.
Speaker 4: (02:55:02)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Houlahan: (02:55:02)
And with that I yield back.
Chairman Smith: (02:55:02)
Thank you. Mr. Bacon is recognized.
Mr. Bacon: (02:55:02)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Milley, you said today that you saw this as a strategic failure. As a 30 year veteran and someone whose been deployed four times myself, and I haven’t served as long as the three of you, but it breaks our heart. And I think most veterans feel heartbroken of the blood and the treasure spilt ended up in a strategic failure. I think we’re enraged by it.
Mr. Bacon: (02:55:31)
Then to have the president come out and say that this was a success and he had no regrets, that does not break our heart. That makes us mad as hell that he would say it that way. So I wanted to say that up front.
Mr. Bacon: (02:55:45)
Secondly, the fact that President Biden on ABC said that no one that he can recall advised him to keep a force of about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, it’s not true. We heard yesterday, we’ve heard today, that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the CENTCOM commander advised differently. I have no other view to see this as a lie, a falsehood from our president. That makes us mad as hell too.
Mr. Bacon: (02:56:18)
Thirdly, I think it’s important to point out that this committee for well over a year cautioned both presidents against a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, Republican and Democratic members of both the House and Senate were so concerned of the risk of a calendar-based withdrawal that we passed a law of prevent it. In fact, the chairman of this committee voted for it when it restricted President Trump.
Mr. Bacon: (02:56:42)
Section 1215 of 2021 NDA prohibited any president, regardless of political party, from drawing down below 2,500 troops until the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of State and the DNI provided Congress a detailed plan explaining how the US would’ve continued to conduct counter terror operations in Afghanistan following US withdrawal. How would the US conduct an orderly transition of security functions to the Afghan military and how would the US protect Americans remaining in the country? And how would the US coordinate any such withdrawal with our NATO allies?
Mr. Bacon: (02:57:16)
And every single failure that we are now witnessing Congress warned against in writing in a law over a year ago. But after taking office President Biden I’m referring to, we wrote to the Biden administration reminding them it was not permitted to go below 2,500 until it provided assurances to Congress their vital interests could be secured. Despite clear congressional intent backed by statute this did not happen.
Mr. Bacon: (02:57:41)
The day after taking office the newly confirmed Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Khal, wrote to the members of this committee essentially stating that President Biden was smarter than Congress. Was confident he had all the angles covered and believed it was not in the national interest to provide Congress with the assurances required in section 1215. And Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter this letter into the record.
Chairman Smith: (02:58:04)
Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. Bacon: (02:58:05)
Okay. My first question here. General McKenzie, I think one of the reasons that the Afghan forces crumbled much quicker than we ever assessed was that we pulled most of our air cover. We took the mechanics away from the Afghan forces and we pulled out a lot of our logistics capabilities. Do you see this as underlying reasons why the Afghan forces collapsed?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:58:29)
I think all of those reasons contributed to why they collapsed.
Mr. Bacon: (02:58:32)
Should it even surprised us when we take away most of our air power that they were used to having, that they would just pull the rug out from underneath them, General?
Gen. McKenzie: (02:58:41)
Well, my position all along has been if you go to zero, if you go to a state where you’re not going to be able to maintain their forces on the ground, that a collapse is inevitable. I have to further say I did not see it coming as fast as it did. I thought it would be a matter of into the fall or into the winter. I did not see it happen in 11 days in August.
Mr. Bacon: (02:58:58)
Thank you. General Milley. I appreciate your candor about this being a strategic failure. How does this embolden Al-Qaeda, ISIS and what does it do to Russia, China, and Iran seeing how we responded in this retreat?
General Milley: (02:59:11)
I think the Taliban City and Kabul significantly emboldens the radical Jihadi movement globally. The analogy I’ve used with many others is it likely will put a shot of adrenaline into their arm. Their grandfathers defeated the Soviet Union in the war in Afghanistan many, many years ago. And they are taking this on their own networks right now and declaring it a major victory. So I think it’s a big morale boost.
General Milley: (02:59:38)
I think it remains to be seen. I think the Russians are quite scared. Not scared, I guess, concerned of terrorists coming across the borders into their near abroad. China is very complicated. They’ve got a significant issue in the Western part of their country. I think Iran now has to deal with a very complicated issue on their border that may or may not be friendly.
Chairman Smith: (03:00:03)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Bacon: (03:00:05)
Thank you, General. I yield.
Chairman Smith: (03:00:05)
And I do want to make a comment because I actually watched the George Stephanopoulos interview before this hearing with… Joe Biden did not say that no one suggested that we should keep 2,500 troops.
Mr. Bacon: (03:00:17)
I read the quote.
Chairman Smith: (03:00:19)
I have the time.
Mr. Bacon: (03:00:20)
It was my quote.
Chairman Smith: (03:00:21)
I have the time and what he said was you cannot have 2,500 troops stay there in a stable situation. So we should at least be accurate about what information was provided. I would urge everyone to go back and actually look at the words and not take what is being said here as accurate.
Mr. Bacon: (03:00:40)
Chairman, I read the quote.
Chairman Smith: (03:00:42)
I read it too. And I read it with a clear, open vision of what he was saying, not with a bent to try and make sure that we could successfully have a partisan attack on him. He was asked could they stay there in a stable environment? That is the option he said wasn’t on the table. Not because it wasn’t offered, but because it didn’t exist. And while we’re ripping apart these three gentlemen here I want to remind everybody that the decision the president made was to stop fighting a war that after 20 years it was proven we could not win. There was no easy way to do that.
Speaker 5: (03:01:21)
Mr. Chairman, I believe that General Bacon was clear-
Chairman Smith: (03:01:23)
If he had just-
Speaker 5: (03:01:24)
… to be defended. Thank you.
Chairman Smith: (03:01:25)
I will be happy to yield Mr. Roger’s time when I am done. What he made clear was we needed to stop fighting a war that for 20 years we’ve had these conversations over and over again. Democrats bash on the Republican presidents more than they bash on the Democratic presidents. Republicans bash on the Democratic presidents more than they bash on the Republican presidents. But the end result was the same. 20 years of an endless series of decisions by very intelligent, very capable, very committed people.
Chairman Smith: (03:01:59)
Any implication that the three gentlemen in front of us are not very capable, very intelligent, and very committed to this country is simply partisan, political opportunism. We can look at 20 years. Pick your favorite general, pick your favorite president, pick your favorite leader. Okay? None of them could successfully do what so many members of this committee are sitting here telling these gentlemen that they’re basically idiots for not being able to do.
Chairman Smith: (03:02:28)
We should pause for just a moment and think about the fact that maybe that’s the wrong argument. Maybe the mission itself was really hard to achieve and what President Biden said is we’re done. We’re not going to have these hearings anymore. We’re not going to have the funerals anymore. We’re not going to lose the service members fighting a war that it is clear we cannot be successful. And we all pick nits and this decision or that decision, why didn’t you say this, why didn’t you do that? 20 years of a whole lot of different people leading has led us to this point and we said we’re going to stop. Once we said that-
Speaker 5: (03:03:09)
Mr. Chairman, this is inconceivable.
Chairman Smith: (03:03:09)
… it was not-
Speaker 5: (03:03:11)
They’re bringing the war here.
Chairman Smith: (03:03:12)
… going to-
Speaker 5: (03:03:12)
The war is not over. It is coming to America. The funerals are here, Mr. Chairman. And we count on you and your leadership-
Chairman Smith: (03:03:19)
It is clear [crosstalk 03:03:19].
Speaker 5: (03:03:19)
.. and these generals to know the war is not over.
Speaker 6: (03:03:21)
Mr. Chairman, point of order.
Speaker 5: (03:03:23)
Mr. Chairman, we are not done with this war.
Chairman Smith: (03:03:25)
The point is, yes, we are going to have to continue to contain this threat, no question about it.
Speaker 5: (03:03:30)
And 20 years of mistakes and excuse for the failure of the withdrawal.
Chairman Smith: (03:03:32)
Having US troops in Afghanistan was not succeeded.
Speaker 6: (03:03:35)
Mr. Chairman, point of order.
Chairman Smith: (03:03:36)
I have to make that point. Mr. Rogers is the ranking member on the committee and I will give him the time to respond.
Mr. Rogers: (03:03:43)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I did note the Stephanopoulos interview and I disagree with your interpretation. Mr. Stephanopoulos came back and asked him again. So you’re saying that nobody advised you to leave the troops and that was his response. But I think the General officers here and the Secretary have made it very clear that they gave the president advice that he wouldn’t listen to. The last president, they gave him advice and he did listen to it.
Mr. Rogers: (03:04:10)
So I’m not challenging and I have not in any way disparaged these great gentlemen. In fact, in my opening remarks I made it abundantly clear I don’t want them shouldering blame for what happened with this withdrawal when it was the administration and the State Department and National Security Advisor. And with that I’ll yield a minute to Mr. Bacon.
Mr. Bacon: (03:04:29)
Thank you, Mr. Rogers for correcting the record.
Chairman Smith: (03:04:33)
Mr. Crow is recognized.
Mr. Crow: (03:04:36)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Dovetailing on Chairman Smith’s comment, I just can’t help but think back to my last deployment in Afghanistan in 2005. And there was a moment where I had been awake for several days, walking with a heavy rucksack in the mountains of Afghanistan and wondering and asking myself, where was the debate? Why weren’t people asking the questions then? Why weren’t people paying attention?
Mr. Crow: (03:05:09)
And I’m glad they are now and I’m glad we are having this debate. But as Chairman Smith eloquently pointed out, we could have been doing this a long time ago. Four administrations, Republican and Democrat, 10 Congresses, Republican and Democrat. This is a 20 year conflict that our country owns, and we have to have a broader discussion. It’s not a two month conflict.
Mr. Crow: (03:05:33)
And I appreciate your candor. And I appreciate the seriousness with which all three of you have dealt with this. So with that in mind, the fact that there are serious issues that have to be addressed, I have two lines of questioning. One about our continuing obligation to our partners. And the next about the planning in advance of the evacuation.
Mr. Crow: (03:05:54)
Now, I want to start the partner question with the recognition that I believe firmly that all three of you share as deeply as I do a sense that we have a continuing obligation, because all three of you served. And I know that all three of you have friends who are still there. They have names and faces. So I’m not going to question your commitment to this.
Mr. Crow: (03:06:20)
The department has a very narrow but important role going forward here. And that role is to provide employment verification to folks so they can be properly vetted and evacuated. That’s very hard to do without boots on the ground now. So what can the department do more going forward? And what is the plan to do that employment verification, to get that paperwork in the hands of our friends so we can get them evacuated?
Sec. Austin: (03:06:51)
One of my Under Secretaries is leading an effort to ensure that we can help improve the process of employment verification. If you think back 20 years ago when people were actually helping us, helping contractors that were working for us, some of the documentation, very, very difficult to get your hands on now. So we’re working to see what we can do to improve this. We want to work with Congress. If there’s any way that we can adjust requirements or adjust our ability to ease this process along, we certainly want to do that. But we’re taking this on in a very serious way.
Mr. Crow: (03:07:45)
I appreciate that and we stand ready and willing to continue to work with you to solve this, because certainly our combat operations are over, but we have that continued obligation as you have often noted.
Mr. Crow: (03:07:56)
The last is about the evacuation planning. There were two tabletop rehearsals, one in June and one in August. The June 11th one dealt with processing of evacuees. These are inter agency tabletop exercises that involved the Department of State. The August 6th one, my understanding, dealt with scenarios for both a permissive and a non permissive NEO.
Mr. Crow: (03:08:23)
So for the August 6th tabletop the State Department was involved in that tabletop. Coming out of that tabletop exercise did the department have, in your opinion, adequate understanding as to the State Department’s plan and role to conduct vetting and processing of evacuees at HKIA?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:08:43)
I believe they did, but I also urged the State… I felt that by nature the Department of Defense can move very fast on issues like this. I felt that we were not completely aligned with State on that. There were still things they could do faster, and I believe they tried their very best to address those. Particularly in terms of providing additional processing power, if you will, to move people through the chain from the consular officers and other people, to move them forward. State representatives took that message on board very seriously at the tabletop exercises.
Mr. Crow: (03:09:12)
So the lack of complete alignment, in your view, has to do with the processing power that was necessary to push forward on the ground?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:09:19)
There were probably other things that was, from my perspective as to who was going to be responsible for identifying people, getting them out of Afghanistan and getting them into the pipeline, that’s what I was personally most concerned about. There were other issues. That was my principle concern.
Mr. Crow: (03:09:34)
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
General Milley: (03:09:37)
Congressman Crow, there’s two other sessions before that, 28 April and 8 May. I think we owe you some answers [crosstalk 03:09:45].
Speaker 7: (03:09:44)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognize Mr. Banks for five minutes.
Mr. Banks: (03:09:49)
Thank you. General Milley, why is it important for the military to be non political?
General Milley: (03:09:54)
I think an apolitical military is critical to the health of this republic.
Mr. Banks: (03:09:59)
General, why did you spend… You’ve already established yesterday and today you spent a significant amount of time talking to political book authors and political reporters, including Bob Woodward. What compelled you to that?
General Milley: (03:10:11)
I believe that part of my job is to communicate to the media what we do as a government, what we do as a military to explain to the people. And so I do interviews regularly with print media, books, documentaries, videos on TV, TV interviews. I think it part of a senior official’s job to be transparent and I believe in a free press.
Mr. Banks: (03:10:34)
What happens when a military general becomes a political figure?
General Milley: (03:10:39)
I have done my-
Mr. Banks: (03:10:41)
[crosstalk 03:10:41]. You would agree that’s dangerous?
General Milley: (03:10:42)
I think it’s dangerous and I have done my best to remain personally apolitical and to try to keep the military out of actual domestic politics. And I made a point of that from the time I became the chairman and especially beginning last summer.
Mr. Banks: (03:10:56)
You told the Senate yesterday you hadn’t read the book or any of the other political books that have come out. But I don’t know how anybody could read the Bob Woodward book, I don’t know how you could read it and not be greatly embarrassed about his contents, especially in how it’s related to you. Are you embarrassed by the book?
General Milley: (03:11:13)
I haven’t read the book yet.
Mr. Banks: (03:11:15)
Are you embarrassed by the portrayals of the book? No doubt, you’re aware of them.
General Milley: (03:11:18)
Embarrassed? No. I’m concerned that there’s mischaracterizations of me becoming very politicized as an individual, and that it’s my willingness to become politicized, which is not true. I am trying to stay apolitical and I believe I am. That’s part of my professional ethic and I’m trying to keep the military, the actual military out of actual domestic politics. I think that’s critical.
Mr. Banks: (03:11:39)
Do you regret speaking with Bob Woodward?
General Milley: (03:11:41)
No. I think that it’s important for me to speak to the media.
Mr. Banks: (03:11:45)
I want to talk about some of the contents of the book. Since you haven’t read it, maybe I can read some of it to you. We’ve already heard a little bit about the back and forth with you and Speaker Pelosi. But in that conversation, you said in a phone call with Speaker Pelosi, she said, “Republicans are enablers of President Trump’s behavior. You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.” You replied, “I agree with you on everything.” That was repeated three times in the prologue of the book, Peril. That you told Speaker Pelosi you agree with her on everything. Is that an accurate portrayal of your recounting to Bob Woodward about those conversations?
General Milley: (03:12:29)
Not exactly. No. I think that-
Mr. Banks: (03:12:31)
Is Bob Woodward wrong? Is that portrayal wrong?
General Milley: (03:12:35)
In fact, I know what iI said, which was, “Madam Speaker, I am not qualified to determine the mental health or assess the mental health of this president or any president.”
Mr. Banks: (03:12:44)
You told the Speaker that you agreed with her on everything.
General Milley: (03:12:47)
And what I was referring to when I said that was I agree that we need to have the processes and procedures in place to make sure that we don’t have an accidental or illegal or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. And I do agree with that. And we do have those procedures.
Mr. Banks: (03:13:01)
You said you agreed with her. According to Bob Woodward [crosstalk 03:13:04].
General Milley: (03:13:03)
I’m not agreeing with-
Mr. Banks: (03:13:04)
Either Bob Woodward is right or you’re right.
General Milley: (03:13:07)
I am not agreeing with her assessment of the president nor-
Mr. Banks: (03:13:11)
The book also goes on in talking about the January 6th riot. It says that you told Bob Woodward that you wrote in a list in your notebook of groups that you personally believe are responsible for the attack and that you associated with it. And you call these these groups, “domestic terrorists” or domestic terrorism. That list included in your notebook, according to Bob Woodward from your conversations with him, Nazis and Oath Keepers. But it also included two conservative media outlets that you listed in your notebook, including the Epic Times, which by the way, is a news outlet that was founded by critics of the Chinese Communist Party, and Newsmax, which is the second most watched conservative media outlet in the country today. Do your notes about January 6th reference both Epic Times and Newsmax as on a list of domestic terrorists?
General Milley: (03:14:03)
I’m not recalling this conversation at all.
Mr. Banks: (03:14:06)
It’s in the book.
General Milley: (03:14:07)
It may be in the book. I haven’t read the book. I’m not recalling a conversation about Newsmax, Epic Times.
Mr. Banks: (03:14:12)
Do you have a notebook that lists Newsmax and Epic Times as domestic terrorists, as recounted by the Bob Woodward book, Peril?
General Milley: (03:14:20)
Mr. Banks: (03:14:20)
Or is Bob Woodward lying to us in the book?
General Milley: (03:14:25)
I don’t know. I don’t recall any conversation about Epic Times.
Mr. Banks: (03:14:27)
Do you believe that Newsmax and Epic Times are domestic terrorists or their viewers or readers are domestic terrorists?
General Milley: (03:14:32)
No, not at all. I don’t think Epic Times nor Newsmax are domestic terrorist organizations.
Mr. Banks: (03:14:38)
Will you produce the notes-
General Milley: (03:14:39)
I believe they are-
Mr. Banks: (03:14:39)
… to this committee-
General Milley: (03:14:40)
I’ll produce any notes you want.
Mr. Banks: (03:14:42)
… [crosstalk 03:14:42] to Bob Woodward in the book that you listed different groups are responsible for January 6th?
General Milley: (03:14:46)
Mr. Banks: (03:14:48)
I yield back.
Chairman Smith: (03:14:49)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I will just know note for the record that I was quoted in that book as well, and a lot of what I said was conflated and not a hundred percent accurately portrayed it. It does happen. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean that it is an accurate portrayal and doesn’t even mean they’re lying. It could be a misunderstanding about what was actually said. Ms. Slotkin is recognized for five minutes.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:15:09)
Thank you. And thank you gentlemen for being here and for the work that you’ve done. I think, obviously, the level of back and forth on the committee today represents some real stress in the system about the withdrawal and what it means, but also about an interest in politicizing national security issues, which I have real issues with.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:15:35)
Can I just ask, I think the question I get asked the most in my district about our withdrawal from Afghanistan is are we safer now than we were on September 10th, 2001? And I believe, and I’ve certainly answered many veterans who have reached out, that I believe their work was valuable and worthy. We kept Al-Qaeda and other groups distracted and destabilized so that we could build up our national security apparatus, our Homeland security here to make us safer.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:16:10)
So it is, of course, hard to hear from this panel that right now we are safer, but we have to watch for the reconstitution of these terrorist groups. No one likes to hear that. I would ask that we get a classified briefing on our Over the Horizon posture, just so we understand. I understand we can’t do it in open session, but just so we understand on this committee what we can expect when it comes to watching those threats. So I’d ask for that commitment.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:16:44)
But as someone who served in Iraq with the CIA, we watched the reconstitution of Al-Qaeda in Western Iraq, which became ISIS. What are the tripwires, I guess, Secretary Austin, and then General Milley, that you are looking for that would push you to engage the White House and say, “Hey, we have a real problem here.” What are those specific things that you’re looking for that would change your assessment from one of, we’re all right right now, to we need to take more significant military action?
Sec. Austin: (03:17:22)
Thanks. First on your request for an Over the Horizon capability brief we’ll certainly sign up for that. I committed to the chairman to do that early on and I’ll have General McKenzie and the Joint Staff and my policy people in that brief as well.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:17:42)
Sec. Austin: (03:17:43)
In terms of specific areas that we’re focused on, we’re looking at their ability to develop a capability to export terror to the Homeland here, whether or not if we see senior leaders beginning to have freedom of movement in Afghanistan. If we see them developing capability in training camps and other things. If we see them moving people back and forth across international boundaries. Those are things that we’re looking for. And again, it will take time to develop a true intel picture of what’s going on. And we’ve begun that work and we’ll remain focused on this throughout.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:18:32)
General Milley: (03:18:36)
The specific indicators and warnings I’d like to take to a different session, but in general, what we’re looking for, leadership, capability, training, those sorts of things, and demonstrations of intent that Al-Qaeda and/or ISIS is going to do external operations against the United States or our interests. If we pick up on those then it’s our obligation to present the president with options to deal with it.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:19:00)
And General Milley, we’ve seen some reports that in our attempts to try and get Over the Horizon posture in countries around Afghanistan, that we’ve had discussions with the Russians about some cooperation. Can you help us understand that. Many of us, that that just gives us, like the hair on our neck starts to go up. Can you explain to us what we’re discussing with the Russians and what we are willing to do and not do with the Russians?
General Milley: (03:19:33)
Again, I’d prefer to take that into a classified session. As you probably know, about a week or 10 days ago I discussed over in Europe with the Russians, had a session with 32 [inaudible 03:19:45] and from all the European NATO nations. And then I had a separate session with my counterpart, General Gerasimov. And I can talk to you in a classified session about that. But in the main we’re not asking permission. We’re not negotiating, I guess, is the word, but President Putin and President Biden had a conversation. And I was following up on that conversation at the direction of my superiors.
Ms. Slotkin: (03:20:10)
Thank you. I would just say I think given that it’s not permissible right now to share classified information, this committee should be informed should there be any movement towards that with the Russians?
Chairman Smith: (03:20:19)
Thank you. The young lady’s time has expired. And we’ve had classified and we will have continued classified briefs, as we have said, as many members have said, I think accurately. The counter-terrorism strategy in South Asia is going to be a crucial policy issue for all of us to deal with going forward. Ms. Cheney is recognized.
Ms. Cheney: (03:20:36)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. General Milley, on January 6th, we had a violent attack on our Capitol. It was an effort to stop the constitutionally prescribed process of counting electoral votes. The first time in our nation’s history that we did not have a peaceful transfer of power.
Ms. Cheney: (03:20:53)
In the aftermath of that attack, many of the members of our constitutional system failed to do their duty. Many of them punted. Many of them today are still attempting to obstruct the investigation into that attack, attempting to whitewash what happened. General Milley, you found yourself in your constitutionally prescribed role, standing in the breach. And for any member of this committee, for any American, to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our constitution, your loyalty to our constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command, is despicable. I want to apologize for those members of this committee who’ve done so, and I want to thank you for standing in the breach when so many, including many in this room failed to do so.
Ms. Cheney: (03:21:46)
With respect to Afghanistan, the only question for us with respect to the deployment of forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else is what does US security require? The circumstances we found ourselves in in Afghanistan, the deployment of our forces was allowing us to conduct counter terrorism operations, counterintelligence operations, enabling us to prevent terrorists from establishing safe havens.
Ms. Cheney: (03:22:14)
General Milley, terrorists now have an entire country of Afghanistan. Could you tell the committee whether or not you think the current situation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of forces, which began with the Doha agreement and the orders that you have described in the Trump administration, which was carried out in the Biden administration, can you tell the committee whether or not you think we are now more safe or less safe? Whether Afghanistan presents more of a threat or less of a threat to our Homeland than when we were able to conduct counter terrorism, counterintelligence operations there?
General Milley: (03:22:49)
I think right now, right this minute, we are more safe because of the efforts over the last 20 years. However, I do think that conditions are more likely than not to develop over the course of time that will allow for the reconstitution of Al-Qaeda and/or ISIS. And that time varies depending on which analyst you’re listening to, but sometime between say 6 to 12 and maybe 36 months.
Ms. Cheney: (03:23:11)
And when you look at the situation that we face today in terms of what’s going to be necessary, the loss of life, the loss of treasure has been tragic, has been devastating. But when you look at where we are likely to find ourselves, do you think that our ability to defend ourselves will now be more expensive? Will cost us more in terms of lives and treasure going forward, or do you believe that the withdrawal will present a situation where we have to devote less resources to the war on terror?
General Milley: (03:23:39)
I think the ends are going to remain the same to protect the American people, but the ways and means are going to change. And I think it’s going to become much more difficult now, in order to conduct counter terrorism operations against a reconstituted Al-Qaeda or ISIS in Afghanistan. Not impossible. We have the capabilities and means to do that, but it will be more difficult.
Ms. Cheney: (03:23:59)
Secretary Austin, are members of the Haqqani Network still a potential target for the United States military?
Sec. Austin: (03:24:08)
We do recognize that the members of the Haqqani Network are recognized terrorists. Yes.
Ms. Cheney: (03:24:14)
So they are a potential target for the United States military?
Sec. Austin: (03:24:18)
Ms. Cheney: (03:24:20)
So, Secretary Austin, the Biden administration has been saying that the Doha agreement is still in effect and that they will hold the Taliban to their “counter-terrorism commitments” in the Doha Agreement. But the Taliban is using this agreement to protect terrorists. The Taliban is intertwined with the Haqqani Network and Al-Qaeda has, in fact, sworn [inaudible 03:24:47] to the Taliban. So can you explain exactly how that agreement that’s enabling terrorists is going to be useful as some kind of a tool to hold the Taliban to any kind of a commitment?
Sec. Austin: (03:24:59)
I think we should do everything within our power to keep pressure on the Taliban to do what they said that they were going to do. And we heard what they said. We will watch their actions, but I think we should continue to apply pressure wherever possible to cause them to keep Al-Qaeda activity in check. And again, you’ve heard us say a couple of times today that we recognize that this is the Taliban and trust is not an issue here necessarily. We hear what they’re saying, we’re watching what they do.
Ms. Cheney: (03:25:35)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My time has expired.
Chairman Smith: (03:25:37)
Ms. Sherrill is recognized for five minutes.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:25:40)
Thank you, Secretary Austin, General Milley, General McKenzie. I have quite a few questions and some I may have to submit for the record because I think it’s important to start with this, and somewhat echo my Republican colleagues’ opening.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:25:54)
We’ve continued to see attacks on our democracy and our values for members representing what, at least historically, would’ve been the extreme elements of the Republican Party. Attacks including, but not limited to the horrible attack on our Capitol and our Congress on January 6th. And one of the cornerstones of our democracy and our government is civilian, not military rule. This is sacrosanct to those of us who’ve worn the uniform. And judging from the attacks by some members of this committee poorly understood by those who have not.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:26:28)
I have concerns about how the NEO was executed, but I must applaud all of you for scrupulously ensuring our civilian government remained the decision making authority as you continue to provide your best military advice, even when at times your advice differed from the decisions made. Thank you.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:26:48)
I’d like to now turn to some questions that I have related to the timeline of events. So, as I understand it, in February of 2020, President Trump made an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw US troops by May 1st, 2021 in exchange for several conditions, including a halt to attacks against US forces and cutting ties with Al Qaeda. By the time he left office President Trump had drawdown forces to 2,500 and publicly indicated his intent to complete the withdrawal if he had been reelected. And I think, General Milley, you mentioned the 10 November 2020 withdrawal of troops by 15 January 2020, which was rescinded. And then the 17 November 2020 drawdown to 2,500 by 19 January. Is that correct?
General Milley: (03:27:39)
It was a memo dated 11 November, two days after Secretary Esper was fired. And then on the 17th it was rescinded. The first memo said go to zero. The second one said go to 2,500.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:27:52)
Thank you. And so were you consulted on the decisions to open negotiations solely with the Taliban to the exclusion of the Afghan government, General?
General Milley: (03:28:06)
Very, very late in the game, like days before the signing.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:28:11)
And General Milley, were there concrete plans for withdraw from the previous administration that were shared and developed with military leadership?
General Milley: (03:28:20)
Well, we were 12,600 US military in Afghanistan when the Doha Agreement was signed. Part of that agreement was to go to 8,500 within, I think it was 135 days. I’d have to go back to the agreement and look at it. And then it was to bring down all the US military NATO, contractors, close all the bases by 1 May. So, it was an agreement signed by our government. We dutifully executed a deliberate drawdown over time from February of 20 all the way through, based on a set of milestones. So we did withdraw and we had a plan to withdraw.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:28:58)
Did any of those plans include plans to evacuate civilian American personnel, citizens, and SIV holders?
General Milley: (03:29:06)
Yes. General McKenzie and CENTCOM did develop NEO plans, but not the large SIV holders and lots of American citizens. It was primarily the embassy and their personnel. But I’d defer to Frank Mackenzie to talk about the details of the NEO plans at that time.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:29:23)
Gen. McKenzie: (03:29:25)
So we hold a NEO plan for every country in the Central Command region. So yes, we had a plan to bring out mainly American citizens and people associated with the embassy. Planning later began to encompass the larger population, the at-risk Afghan population, the SIV population. But initially, like every other plan it centered on American citizens and their families.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:29:46)
When you say the planning later grew to include that, what is the timeframe for when you began to include SIV [crosstalk 03:29:52]?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:29:51)
No later than the early spring of this year.
Ms. Sherrill: (03:29:56)
So under this administration?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:29:59)
Ms. Sherrill: (03:30:02)
And General Milley, in your testimony…
General Milley: (03:30:03)
Speaker 8: (03:30:03)
And General Milley, in your testimony to the Sask yesterday, you testified that the Trump Administration’s plan had not been developed via a robust inner agency process. How closely were you and other senior military leaders consulted on President Trump’s plans as they were developed?
General Milley: (03:30:19)
I wasn’t consulted on the 11 November order that I received. That’s why I went over to the White House with acting Secretary Miller and the White House chief of staff, Kash Patel, to discuss that order. So I wasn’t consulted on it.
Speaker 8: (03:30:33)
Well, thank you, and my time’s expired. I’ll submit the rest of my questions for the record.
Chairman Smith: (03:30:37)
Thank you, Mr. Waltz is recognized.
Mr. Waltz: (03:30:39)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and here’s where I think we’re really talking past each other. This war is not done. It’s not over. This is a war against Islamic extremism. It’s a war against an ideology. And just as it took decades, decades, not 20 years, not 30 years, many more to defeat the idea of communism, to defeat the idea of fascism. It’s going to take decades to defeat the idea of Islamic extremism. General McKenzie, you testified yesterday, Al-Qaeda is still at war with us. Do you stand by that statement?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:31:13)
Absolutely, [inaudible 03:31:15].
Mr. Waltz: (03:31:15)
DNI Hanes, Biden’s director of national intelligence, briefed the Congress that Al-Qaeda fully intends to attack the west again, if given the chance. The head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden’s former deputy, has pledged allegiance to the head of the Taliban, except now they have an entire state to work with, an army, an air force, a functioning international airport. And I think if things continue on the path they are, possibly billions and international currency reserves.
Mr. Waltz: (03:31:43)
So Mr. Chairman, respectfully, we’re not done with this war. I would’ve thought we would have learned the lesson from Iraq. I would’ve thought, Mr. Secretary, you would learn the lesson from Iraq, where we pulled out in 2011. Mr. Chairman, you issued a statement praising that pullout as ending that war. And yet, we found ourselves three years later with soldiers going back in. But let’s look at the situation, because I think the American people need to understand this. Here we have Iraq. We pulled out led to the rise of the ISIS caliphate, which was obviously a morphed entity from Al-Qaeda. Look at all of the bases that we had to deal with when we went back. We had bases in the Gulf. We had bases in Kuwait. We have bases in Turkey, in Jordan, of course, in Israel, allied bases in Cyprus. We had allies on the ground in the Kurds. We didn’t let ISIS take over the government in Baghdad and the army and all of the functions of this state.
Mr. Waltz: (03:32:43)
We had all of these assets to work with to go clean up that mess. And how many soldiers and lives did we lose from cleaning up that mistaken withdrawal, Mr. Chairman? But let’s transition over here to Afghanistan. What we see? General McKenzie, we have a single base in Afghanistan now?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:33:04)
We have no base in-
Mr. Waltz: (03:33:05)
Do we have a base in any country neighboring Afghanistan?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:33:07)
We do not.
Mr. Waltz: (03:33:08)
Do we have any local allies approaching the capability of the Kurds?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:33:13)
We do not. There may be some options, but we do not.
Mr. Waltz: (03:33:15)
We have the Northern Alliance, the Panjshir has been taken. Frankly, they’re being slaughtered right now as we speak. With our weapons, with our damn equipment, our allies are being slaughtered. Every morning, we wake up to beheading videos, to executions, to people being hunted down with our own database. But when, and if, you have to present options to the President, how many soldiers are we going to lose? Because we have no allies on the ground, we have no basis in the region. And now we’re going to get to really the crux of the issue, which is over the horizon terrorism.
Mr. Waltz: (03:33:52)
Those drones have to fly all the way around Iran and all the way up Pakistan and lose 70 to 80% of their fuel before they even get anywhere near a target. And we just saw, from the failed attack, the botched attack, that you have to have multi=intelligence confirming what that drone operator’s seeing. I’ve called it in, and I know that drone operator would appreciated somebody on the ground saying, “No, that’s a civilian. Don’t pull that trigger.” So I appreciate your candor in saying how difficult this is going to be, but the President of the United States is selling this country fiction that we can do over here with nothing what we’re doing over here with neighboring base access, with allies on the ground, and with ocean access. That is a fiction that I think you all need to own, and we need to be honest with the American people.
Mr. Waltz: (03:34:51)
I am just livid at the fact of the future Americans that are going to have to go back to clean up this mess. We are watching this horror movie, that representative Slotkin experience that we all experienced after Iraq. The President continues to say, “Well, we can do what we do in Somalia. We can do what we do in Syria.” Mr. Secretary, you just briefed about a strike in Syria. We have a lot more capability there. One more question. Do we have any evidence, intelligence or otherwise, of Pakistani troops on the ground, intelligence officers, air support, or any troops on the ground assisting the Taliban or command and control assisting the Taliban offensive?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:35:32)
I’d prefer to answer that question [inaudible 03:35:34].
Mr. Waltz: (03:35:34)
I’ll take that as a yes. And Mr. Chairman-
Chairman Smith: (03:35:40)
Mr. Waltz, your time has expired.
Mr. Waltz: (03:35:42)
That’s not going to go to a civil war. It’s going to go to a regional war.
Chairman Smith: (03:35:45)
And just for the record, we’re not going to put words in the mouths of our witnesses. You can’t take it as a yes if it was not in fact a yes. Ms. Escobar is now recognized.
Ms. Escobar: (03:35:56)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Gentlemen, thank you so much for your incredible leadership, your patriotism and your service to our country. I am very grateful for it. I want to begin by saying that I am incredibly privileged to represent Fort Bliss. I represent El Paso, Texas, and Fort Bliss is offering hospitality right now to nearly 10,000 Afghan guests. And I want to say to those service members how proud I am of the work that they’re doing to offer that hospitality. I had the privilege to tour the Donya Ana Village last month with NORTHCOM Commander General Van Herc, got to speak to many of those service members, morale is high, and I could not be prouder of what they’re doing. Had an opportunity also to speak to our Afghan guests as well and get a sense from them how they’re doing.
Ms. Escobar: (03:36:47)
We know that the die was cast with the Doha agreement, an agreement that former President Trump entered into with the Taliban and the Taliban alone. We have learned that it was that agreement that demoralized the Afghan army and the Taliban moved in and began making deals with them, which expedited their control. We know that that demoralization contributed to the rapid fall of Afghanistan which shocked us all. General Milley, earlier you told us that when former President Trump entered into the Doha Agreement, there was a setting out of very specific conditions that were to be met by the time of the May 1st drawdown. Is that correct?
General Milley: (03:37:34)
Ms. Escobar: (03:37:36)
General Milley, how many of those conditions have been met when former President Trump then announced he wanted to speed up the withdrawal from May 1st to January 15th, 2020?
General Milley: (03:37:48)
There was only one condition that was met. That was the condition that asked that the Taliban committed to not striking against US forces and our coalition forces, which they did not do.
Ms. Escobar: (03:38:02)
And when then President Trump announced the expedited drawdown, was he aware that four of the five conditions had not been met?
General Milley: (03:38:15)
I believe, yes.
Ms. Escobar: (03:38:17)
Do you know the significance, if there is any, of the January 15th expedited drawdown date?
General Milley: (03:38:24)
I don’t. I was handed a piece of paper and went over and talked to folks in the White House and it was rescinded. I don’t know why that particular date was picked.
Ms. Escobar: (03:38:36)
Okay. Have we learned or do we know whether those announcements of expedited withdrawal added to or exacerbated the demoralized nature of the Afghan army?
General Milley: (03:38:49)
Well, the 11 November order was not announced, but the drawdown to 2,500 was. I don’t know factually in the sense if we have detailed reporting, but I think, I believe, and we’ll do this in the AARs, I think that was a one of many contributing factors, not the only one, but one of many contributing factors to the declination of the morale of the Afghan security forces.
Ms. Escobar: (03:39:14)
Thank you, General Milley. You’ve also described the outcome of this withdrawal as a strategic failure. Can you share with us what would have been considered success for the administration, the service members and military experts who’ve been involved in this conflict for over two decades, and what it would have taken for us to get to success?
General Milley: (03:39:37)
I think, and my opinion was that success would have been a negotiated solution between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban for a power sharing arrangement in their government and an end to the civil war in that manner. I also assessed that the probability of that actually happening was low, but I did think that there was a possibility and it wasn’t zero. So a negotiated solution, I think, was probably the best way to describe a proper end to this war. I don’t think that there was a military solution by us to destroy, defeat the Taliban. I think that was not in the cards. And I didn’t think at the time that if we sustained a level of effort in Afghanistan with our military, 2,500 or 3,500, in those ranges, I didn’t think the Taliban could defeat the Afghan security forces. That was where my assessments at the time, and I thought success meant a negotiated settlement between the government and the Taliban and have a power sharing arrangement to end the war.
Ms. Escobar: (03:40:38)
Thank you, General Milley. I have about 15 seconds. Secretary Austin, has the US military and Department of Defense begun to re-imagine any of our existing involvements abroad to better assess risk of a fallout such as this one?
Sec. Austin: (03:40:53)
Yeah. We continue to take a look at ourselves across the board and how we’re-
Chairman Smith: (03:40:58)
And the gentlelady’s time has expired, so that’ll have to be taken for the record. Mr. Johnson is recognized.
Mr. Johnson: (03:41:04)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There’s been a dispute here today about the actual words that were shared in the ABC News George Stephanopoulos interview with the President. We took the Liberty of getting the full transcript. I’m going to read you the relevant excerpt and ask you a question. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter the transcript into the record.
Chairman Smith: (03:41:19)
Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. Johnson: (03:41:20)
So Stephanopoulos asked this, “But your military advisers warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.” Biden, “No, they didn’t. It was split. That wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.” Stephanopoulos, “They didn’t tell you that they wanted troops to stay?” Biden, “No, not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops. They didn’t argue against that.” Stephanopoulos, “So your military advisers did not tell you, ‘no, we should just keep 2,500 troops.’ It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that?” Biden, “No. No one said that to me, that I can recall.”
Mr. Johnson: (03:42:03)
So gentlemen, with all due respect, the American people deserve to know the truth in all this. They’re asking us to get the truth. So here’s the thing. There’s only three possibilities here. Either the President lied to the American people or he legitimately cannot remember the counsel of his top military advisers in winding down the longest war in American history, or you have not been fully accurate under oath. General McKenzie, I’ll ask you. Which is it?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:42:27)
I want to be very direct. I cannot share advice I give the President and I will not do that. I will also tell you though, that it’s been my consistent position throughout this hearing and the hearing yesterday that I believe the appropriate level of our forces in Afghanistan should have been 2,500.
Mr. Johnson: (03:42:43)
I think we can take that to mean that you gave him that advice.
Gen. McKenzie: (03:42:47)
Sir, I would not take it to mean anything other than the words-
Mr. Johnson: (03:42:49)
Fair enough. Secretary Austin, what is it? What are we to believe by seeing all this?
Sec. Austin: (03:42:53)
Well, first of all, you heard me say earlier, Congressman, that I support the president’s decision. You also heard me say that I don’t view this choice as a no cost, no risk choice. I do believe that if we left 2,500 people there for an extended period of time, you’d eventually have to reinforce those people, because the Taliban was committed to attacking.
Mr. Johnson: (03:43:18)
Secretary, I understand all that. What we’re trying to get to is what did the President know? Did he forget what was told to him? Or is he not being truthful?
Sec. Austin: (03:43:26)
I view that as an inappropriate question, and I won’t-
Mr. Johnson: (03:43:28)
Well, you may, but the American people don’t. The American people want and deserve accountability. And we even have service members like Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Scheller being thrown in the brig for suggesting that. The public’s faith in our institutions continues to erode precisely because everyone in the DC bubble appears to have some sort of immunity from the basic standards the rest of America is expected to live by. This is quite clearly one of the biggest military and foreign policy blunders since our withdrawal from Vietnam. So my question for all of you is very simple. Where does the blame lie, Mr. Austin, Secretary Austin?
Sec. Austin: (03:44:04)
Well, first of all, I am responsible for everything that happens that DOD does, and it does a lot. I remain focused on defending this country, and that’s going to be my focus for the foreseeable future. Secondly, I would remind you that we just evacuated 124,000 people.
Mr. Johnson: (03:44:25)
I appreciate that you think that that was a big success evacuation, but the blame for the disastrous withdrawal that everyone agrees was a disaster, who’s to blame for that? I’ll let the silence speak for itself. General Milley, You said earlier this month that it’s possible that we would work with the Taliban to conduct strikes against ISIS-K in Afghanistan, presumably referencing our over the horizon capabilities. But today, you testified, you said, “The Taliban remains a terrorist organization with ties to Al-Qaeda.” So are you now suggesting that the United States formed some sort of strategic partnership with a terrorist organization?
General Milley: (03:45:03)
No, absolutely not. I’m not suggesting that at all. Could I go to your first question though?
Mr. Johnson: (03:45:07)
General Milley: (03:45:09)
Like Frank McKenzie, like General McKenzie, It’s not our purview to share specific discussions with the President in terms of national security decision-making, but it was our opinion at the time, and it’s been very consistent. And I would also tell you that this administration did, and I was part of it, along with the joint chiefs, a very rigorous process. And this President was one of the most informed decisions that you can imagine, in terms of all sides of the argument. We in the military, in the uniform military, we’d look at the cost, the risk of force, the benefit, et cetera, in a narrow focused view. Just other decision makers have a much wider angle.
Mr. Johnson: (03:45:52)
I appreciate that, but what we’re left with, in the nine seconds I have left, is that we’re supposed to believe that the President was either not informed by you of these very important factors or he forgot it. Either one is alarming.
Chairman Smith: (03:46:03)
The gentleman’s time is expired. And since the transcript was submitted for the record, and we read through this quick, but Mr. Stephanopoulos says, “Your top military advisors warns against withdrawing in this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.” “No, they didn’t. It was split.” That’s what the President said. He didn’t say, “No, nobody advised me. It was split.”
Mr. Johnson: (03:46:30)
Mr. Chairman, read down two more lines.
Chairman Smith: (03:46:32)
I’ll be done in just a second and then I’ll yield it back to you. And then Stephanopoulos says, “No. No one said we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.” “No, no one said that to me that I can recall. No one said it’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.” Those are the words on the transcript that was just submitted. I’ll leave it to other people to interpret that. But those are the actual words. And yes, I will yield, Mr. Johnson, if you can do it quickly. Sorry, I want to get to some other people, but I should give you the chance. Go ahead.
Mr. Johnson: (03:47:13)
I’ll do it very quickly, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that. You just read it at face value. Stephanopoulos says, “So no one told you, your military advisors did not tell you, no, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.” Biden says, “No, no one said that to me that I can recall.”
Chairman Smith: (03:47:31)
You read quickly through the it’s been a stable situation part, but that’s the important part.
Mr. Johnson: (03:47:35)
Okay. Well, look, it’s open to interpretation.
Chairman Smith: (03:47:38)
I think we’ve both made our point.
Mr. Johnson: (03:47:40)
All right. I think the American people use common sense and it’s alarming, whatever it is. I yield back.
Mr. Waltz: (03:47:44)
Ms. Lauria, you are recognized.
Ms. Lauria: (03:47:47)
Well, thank you, and I would like to start, General Milley, by associating myself with the remarks that Ms. Cheney made it at the beginning of her questions and focus on the timeframe immediately following the 2020 election. On November 9th, 2020, Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, was replaced by acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, and additionally other key leadership positions were at DOD were abruptly filled with new people. General Milley, did this rapid replacement of top senior officials at the Department of Defense in the final days of the administration give you concern regarding the transition of the administration?
General Milley: (03:48:25)
We in the military are trained for leadership replacement from the time we we’re second Lieutenant, a follow-up one drill sort of thing. And it is clearly in the prerogative of any president to replace any cabinet member or any appointee at all at any point in time. That’s how I would answer that. We’re prepared to execute at a moment’s notice if someone is relieved.
Ms. Lauria: (03:48:50)
And General Milley, did you have any concerns at the time that involved the potential misuse of the military for political reasons?
General Milley: (03:49:00)
I was determined to make sure that the US military is properly employed, and I would render my advice to ensure that the US military is employed, not for political use.
Ms. Lauria: (03:49:15)
Thank you. And it’s been referenced a few times during the hearing today that you did cooperate with several authors for specific books. And it seems as though your choice to do that was that you wanted to get the story straight, the facts out there about different things that transpired during this timeframe. And you acknowledged today that you frequently speak to reporters, and also yesterday in comments to senators, that you sometimes do that anonymously. I think that we would all like full transparency and full understanding of the facts surrounding this timeframe. And as you know, I’m a member of the select committee to investigate the events surrounding January 6th. So I can speak for the committee to say that we’ll be very interested to have the same level of information and be able to speak to you in the future about those topics. And I’ll shift now to another topic of discussion, and if I could ask my colleagues to please respect my time. So General Milley, you’ve spent half of your career fighting a war in Afghanistan roughly. And when did you personally know that the war was lost?
General Milley: (03:50:29)
Well, I think if you go back to five, six years ago, I knew it was stalemated. Lost is a different word, but I believed it was stalemated. And I believed five, six years ago, that it was unwinnable through US military means, for several reasons. There’s a sanctuary in Pakistan that was not going to be destroyed or defeated, and that insurgencies are highly political wars to begin with. And what was important to win is to have an indigenous government that was seen as legitimate in the eyes of the people, along with the military, their police and army, that could adequately deal with that situation. But I knew years ago that it was stalemated, said that repeatedly, internal and external, and that winning would be defined as a negotiated solution. As most insurgencies are historically, they result in a negotiated solution between the insurgent and the regime. And I thought that was the best way that this could handle. I didn’t think there was a military solution.
Ms. Lauria: (03:51:31)
So it’s interesting to me that you used the word winning. Did you think that winning was possible? Or did you think that a stalemate or a status quo was really the only ultimate outcome that we could hope for in this situation?
General Milley: (03:51:44)
I think, as I recall, President Bush at the very beginning of this thing 20 years ago said, “Winning would look a lot different in this war,” or words to that effect. And I think he was right then. And I think that a negotiated solution was the best way of approaching a “win.” I think that would have been in the best interest of the United States, and it would have been in the best interest of the region, and the Afghan people was a negotiated solution between the Taliban, the insurgent, and the government.
Ms. Lauria: (03:52:15)
Well, thank you. And I saw Secretary Austin nodding. I know there’s very little time left. Did you want to add something briefly?
Sec. Austin: (03:52:20)
Yeah. You heard me say at the very top that my hope was that we could reach a negotiated settlement. A stalemate would actually provide the opportunity to do that, for both sides to negotiate an earnest if neither thought that they were going to win. And again, we just never reached that point because the Taliban had advantages coming into this because we weren’t striking them. We released-
Chairman Smith: (03:52:48)
The gentlelady’s time has expired. I appreciate it. A couple of quick, quick announcements. So there is a vote. We have a hard stop at two. We’re going to stop it too. I am going to go vote. Ms. Lauria, if you could take the chair for just a moment. I will come back as quickly as I can and then free you have that obligation, but it is my intention to roll through that. So members, vote accordingly, be here. I think we have Ms. Jacobs who’s up next on our side, so we have a couple of people that would get us through that. But that’s what we’re going to do, and Ms. Bice is recognized for five minutes, and I’ll be right back.
Ms. Bice: (03:53:22)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank the witnesses for being with us today. Over the last few weeks, I have heard an outpouring of concern and frustration for my constituents, veterans and military families chief among them, who have expressed their outrage in the disastrous withdrawal and the abandonment of our Afghan allies and even American citizens. I too am deeply outraged and have been equally stunned by the lack of leadership by President Biden throughout all of this. The American people deserve to have a full accounting of the president’s decision making processes and what ultimately led to the disastrous outcome. Gentlemen, this is not about whether or not we should have left or not. This is about how we left. We may not get all the answers, and the public deserves in today’s hearing to know the facts surrounding this.
Ms. Bice: (03:54:10)
My first question, two part. Regarding Bagram Airbase, during the Senate testimony yesterday, General Austin, you said the choice to abandon Bagram was made carefully based on the mission to protect the Embassy. What aspect of security at HKIA made it more secure than Bagram? And following that you mentioned in your opening statement, Bagram had little strategic value. If you could elaborate on both of those, please.
Sec. Austin: (03:54:35)
I certainly didn’t say a Bagram them has little strategic value in my opening statement. We can break it out and go by, go through it line by line if you’d like. I would point out to you that I commanded Bagram at one point in time. There may be other people in the room who have done that, but probably not. So I know a lot about Bagram and what it offers. The key point here is that the Embassy was in Kabul, and our mission at transition was to provide additional security for the Embassy. And in the event of an evacuation, we would have to start with evacuating the Embassy first. And so Kabul, it provides everything that you need to be able to do that, capacity, the proximity, and so I think it was the right choice.
Ms. Bice: (03:55:29)
But isn’t it accurate that HKIA has one runway, whereas Bagram had multiple runways, which would’ve made it easier for the evacuation of individuals from…
Sec. Austin: (03:55:40)
And that’s a great point. I’d have to secure it. Now, the reason that we could stay there with 2,500 people earlier was because we had the Afghan security forces secure any outer perimeter of Bagram. If you no longer have that, then you have to commit five or 6,000 troops to do that, and then secure it, defend it, and then run the air ops. So that’s a substantial, additional commitment of resources.
Ms. Bice: (03:56:08)
General Milley or General McKenzie, anything that you’d like to add?
Gen. McKenzie: (03:56:12)
I just like to briefly talk about Bagram. It has two runways, but that’s actually not what you want to examine when you want to look at an airfield. It’s an arcane thing called a MOG. It’s the ability to load aircraft and move aircraft around on the runway. And HKIA had better facilities than Bagram for that. Additionally, as the Secretary noted, the simple distance from where the people are had to be a planning factor. And last, of course, we were under direction to go to zero, 650 to secure the Embassy, so Bagram was not an option under those circumstances.
Ms. Bice: (03:56:41)
General Milley: (03:56:43)
I would add, if I could, if you have the assumption that there’s no Afghan army, there’s 73 towers at Bagram as a minimum, there’s three big gates. You have to have a quick reaction force. You’re going to have to patrol out to rocket range, and then you’re going to have to secure this 30 miles of road between Kabul and Bagram. We would’ve never been able to get 124,000 people out of Bagram. It just wouldn’t have happened. The center of gravity of a Neo was always going to be HKIA. The security issues clearly are different at HKIA than they are at Bagram. But Bagram was really not a feasible option, given numbers of troops, distance, and the security requirements.
Ms. Bice: (03:57:20)
Thank you, General Milley. Follow up question, you mentioned having to evacuate so quickly. Do you trust the information that you are receiving from our intelligence community, General Austin?
Sec. Austin: (03:57:34)
I have confidence in the information that we get from the intel community, yes. That doesn’t say that they will be a 100% right all the time though.
Ms. Bice: (03:57:41)
Given the fact that it seems as though they did not at all plan for a complete surrender of the Afghan forces upon the withdrawal of US troops.
Sec. Austin: (03:57:57)
They predicted that outcome, but a different timeline as you’ve heard us say before.
Ms. Bice: (03:58:08)
In addition to the botched over the horizon activity that killed 10 Afghans, still believe that the intelligence community can be trusted and is effective?
Sec. Austin: (03:58:21)
Again, I have confidence in the intel community. In terms of-
Ms. Lauria: (03:58:26)
The gentlelady’s time has expired. I will now recognize Ms. Jacobs for five minutes.
Ms. Jacobs: (03:58:32)
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to follow up on the questions regarding the August 29th drone strike that killed [inaudible 03:58:40], a worker for a Southern California based aid group, and nine of his family members, including seven children. And General McKenzie, you called the strike a tragic mistake, and I think we can all agree with that characterization. This is an open hearing, so I’m not going to ask about the specific intelligence that led to the strike. But General Milley, you said even after the truth was revealed, that there was a reasonable certainty that the target was valid. So I would like to know, do you have that same level of confidence in the intelligence that you have had for similar strikes carried out under DOD’s authority?
General Milley: (03:59:18)
Yes, I do. Intelligence is not perfect. Intel is, our vice just said, it’s never perfect. We’re not going to get perfection in the world of intelligence. They speak in terms of probabilistic language, what is more likely than not. And I believe that we have good reason to have confidence in our intelligence systems. They’re not perfect, but we have good reason to have confidence in them. And I think that’s been expressed over time in the accuracy and precision of these strikes.
Ms. Jacobs: (03:59:52)
General Milley: (03:59:53)
This one strike was bad. It was tragic. It was horrible. But that is not to say that the intelligence system as a whole is wrong.
Ms. Jacobs: (04:00:01)
Okay. But given that we’ve actually had multiple of these mistakes that we already know about, including the AC-130 gunship attack in 2015 that destroyed an MSF hospital and killed 42 civilians, what assurances can you give us? And the American people that our drone program has adequate safeguards? And Secretary Austin, you said that the department has endeavored to learn from this latest mistake. What have you learned?
Sec. Austin: (04:00:30)
Thanks. Again, I would just remind you that I have directed a review of this operation, and so I won’t make any comments on specifics here, because that review is ongoing. But in terms of our commitment to learning from all of our operations, we remain committed to doing that, and we are specifically concerned whenever there is an inadvertent loss of life and injury to civilians. And so we take that very seriously and we hold ourselves accountable for that.
Ms. Jacobs: (04:01:10)
Well, great. And we, in this committee, will be looking forward to seeing the results of that review and also having accountability. General McKenzie, yesterday, when asked by Senator Mark Kelly about the over the horizon counter-terrorism, you said, and I quote, “As we go forward and our ability to create the ecosystem that allows you to see on the ground and put it together is going to be harder in places like Afghanistan.” I know many of my colleagues have already asked about what this means for our ability to counter groups like ISIS-K. I have a different question. What does that mean for our ability to prevent civilian casualties so that we don’t see another drone strike like the one that took place in Kabul? And if the ability to prevent civilian casualties becomes harder, will you and [inaudible 04:01:56] take extra precautions in selecting target packages? Or how are you planning to deal with this extra uncertainty?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:02:04)
Thank you for the question. The strike that was undertaken at [inaudible 04:02:07] the 29th was a self-defense strike. It was taken because we believe there was an imminent attack developing against our forces at HKIA. So that’s very different than the type of strike we would undertake in an over the horizon scenario. The principle differences would be this. We would not be under the acute pressure of time because we thought the attack was imminent. Because if we’re striking a target in Afghanistan, there’s actually no imminency to that attack. We’re talking weeks and maybe months rather than hours or minutes. So you have opportunity to develop pattern of life. You have the opportunity to apply all the other disciplines of intelligence that can help us, whether that’s signal, image, human intelligence, and we would work hard to try to reconstitute that to a degree. And I’ll talk more about that in a future classified session with you. But it would be wrong to believe that the strike in Kabul, which I’ve acknowledged went badly wrong, is the prototype that we would employ for past or future over the horizon strikes.
Ms. Jacobs: (04:03:09)
Well, thank you. I will look forward to working with you all to make sure that we do that well, and I will note your comments on imminence next time we have questions about war powers with some of the strikes. But with that, I will yield back.
Ms. Lauria: (04:03:23)
Thank you, and Mr. Jackson is recognized for five minutes.
Mr. Jackson: (04:03:27)
Thank you, Madam chair. Thank you, Secretary Austin, General McKenzie, and General Milley for being here today. It’s a very important hearing that we’re having here. I appreciate the committee’s urgency in making this happen. While there was partisan support for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, there were differences in opinion on how that should have been conducted. Something we should all be able to agree on is that the withdrawal should have been conditions based and there should not have been any political motivation involved in this decision, which I don’t think was the actual case. But General Milley, I’d like to ask you, how often were you in contact with your Chinese counterpart discussing our evacuation efforts in Afghanistan?
General Milley: (04:04:00)
Zero. And I agree with you, conditions based.
Mr. Jackson: (04:04:05)
General Milley on August 18th, you were quoted as saying, “The timeframe of a rapid collapse was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months, and even years following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.” Between the 18th and the 21st of June, in just four days, 21 districts and nine provinces fell to the Taliban and the Afghan security forces quickly surrendered and abandoned their post. This was an obvious beginning to the end of the Afghan army into the Taliban takeover. General Milley, What were you doing during this timeframe? Before you answer that question, let me tell you, you were two days, just two days prior to when these provinces fail, you were here in our committee on June 23rd. You sat before this committee and you listed some of your concerns that we talked in depth about. One was defending critical race theory in the military, telling us you want to understand white rage, telling us how offended you were to be labeled as-
Mr. Jackson: (04:05:03)
Understand white rage telling us how offended you were to be labeled as woke, and worrying about what caused American civilians to enter the Capitol on January six. I submit to you that perhaps we would not have had 13 service members and hundreds of Afghans killed, 18 service members wounded and countless us citizens abandoned and left as Taliban hostages if you had been more focused on your duty to this country, instead of defending and pandering to the Biden administrations woke social experiment with the United States military, doing book interviews and colluding with Chinese military officials. Yesterday, Senator Cotton asked you why you haven’t resigned. And you said you were not going to resign just because the president didn’t take your advice. Will I submit to you sir, that you should resign because of your dereliction of duty to this country, and your inability to do your job and protect this country. It has become abundantly clear that the American people have completely lost confidence in your ability to do your job. General Milley, will you now resign?
General Milley: (04:06:01)
I serve at the pleasure of the president, Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson: (04:06:04)
I yield back my time.
Chairman Smith: (04:06:09)
Thank you. And just for the record on that date, in question, what chairman Milley was doing is he was appearing before this committee at our request and answering the questions that we asked him. And I appreciate his willingness and the willingness of all the leadership to appear before us. That is an incredibly important part of their job. And I don’t want to leave any of you with the impression that we don’t want you to do it, just because of questions like that. Mr. Kahele is recognized for five minutes.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:06:38)
Aloha, Mr. Chairman. Aloha secretary, Austin, chairman Milley, general McKinsey. Mahalo for your testimony and taking the time to be here today. As someone who has also worn a uniform, still wears a uniform. I’m very appreciative of your service and having first deployed to operation during freedom in 2005, I am glad the U.S. involvement in the war is over. I support the president’s decision. However, I’m concerned that the accelerated withdrawal, the strategic failure and fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has damaged U.S. credibility with our allies and partners. As a former C-17 mission commander, I will never forget those images that I saw early in the morning of 15 August from Kabul with total chaos at HKIA and Afghans falling out of the sky, desperate to flee the country.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:07:21)
So I think my testimony, all my questions focused on secretary Austin’s testimony, and it’s really on the NEO operation that my colleagues rep Crow had referred to. And so secretary Austin, in your testimony, you stated that military planners had crafted a number of evacuation scenarios. In mid May you had ordered CENTCOM to make preparations for a potential NEO. And that on the 10th of August, there was another NEO tabletop. When did the state department actually call for the NEO?
Sec. Austin: (04:07:53)
I believe it was on a 14th Congressman.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:07:57)
Sec. Austin: (04:07:57)
14th of August.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:07:58)
On the 14th of August, the state department called for the NEO. So you stated in your testimony that the NEO remains among the most challenging military operations, even in the best of circumstances. And the circumstances in August where anything but ideal. Extreme heat, a landlocked country, no government, a highly dynamic situation on the ground and an active, credible and lethal terrorist threat. And that also in your testimony that you’d offered input to the state department, that although mindful of their concerns that moving too soon would actually cause a very collapse of Afghan government that we all wanted to avoid. But that moving too late would put our people and our operations at greater risk. And so what I’m trying to figure out is despite the president’s decision to order the withdrawal on April 14th and that the true presence will go to zero on May 1st, the withdrawal began. By May and June of 2021, the Taliban had captured a quarter of the country.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:08:59)
Representative Crow identified on June 11th. There was a NEO tabletop that was done on August 6th. The Taliban captured the first capital. On August 10th we did a tabletop. Why were we doing a tabletop on August 10th when the Taliban was rapidly advancing to Kabul? On August 14, [inaudible 04:09:16] Mazar-e-Sharif fell, and by August 15th, the Taliban had entered Kabul. So that’s what I’m trying to figure out, secretary Austin, is why did we wait? I know we had to wait for the state department to call for the NEO, but why did we wait so long to do that? Even though we had pre-positioned forces. As you had mentioned in Afghanistan, we had the 24th MEU there, 82nd airborne was coming in, but the airfield was still in total chaos on August 15th.
Sec. Austin: (04:09:45)
Yeah. So I think what changed the equation here, we anticipated that just based upon the disposition of forces that were kind of centered around the population center, that the Afghans would in fact put up more significant resistance. And so we anticipated that, that fighting would be a bit more intense. As they approached Ghazni, we didn’t see the fight that we thought we’d see. And that was a trigger for us to begin to move some things very quickly. And then even as they moved north of Ghazni, we expected that as they approached Kabul, that again, those forces that were there would fight more. And there was a government in place still at the time, but what the government collapsing and leaving, that precipitated the evaporation of the security forces and that really panicked the people. And so what you saw on that first day was a result of that panic.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:10:52)
Should the NEO operation have commenced sooner than April 14th?
Sec. Austin: (04:11:00)
I certainly think it could have. Yeah. Again, we had the elements to begin to operate a bit sooner, but I mean [crosstalk 04:11:11] that’s a state department call and-
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:11:12)
Sec. Austin: (04:11:13)
We provide our input and it’s based upon a lot of things. And this is not throwing my state department colleagues under the bus. It’s a very dynamic and challenging situation.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:11:22)
General McKenzie, you stated that primarily our NEO planning included [inaudible 04:11:25] and embassy personnel. When did the NEO planning begin to include Afghans and SIVs?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:11:33)
Late in spring, early in the summer, we began to broaden that plan.
Kaiali’i Kahele: (04:11:35)
That for your questions. [crosstalk 04:11:37]
Chairman Smith: (04:11:37)
Thank you. Mr. Franklin is recognized.
Scott Franklin: (04:11:39)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you gentlemen, for your patience and persistence these last two days. I understand, I know there’s a lot of hours to be sitting before all of us. And then when you’re telling Charlie, like I am in this batting order, most of the ground’s been broken. But I do have a couple of things, but first I was kind of puzzled hearing general McKenzie’s characterization of our departure now out of Afghanistan as being something other than a surrender. It doesn’t feel that way to me. It certainly doesn’t feel that way to the American public and 20 years ago, exactly I was sitting in Baghran, we were planning the initial strikes into Afghanistan. And at that time, our marching orders were to defeat Al Qaeda, and to ensure that the Afghanistan would no longer be a safe haven for terrorists.
Scott Franklin: (04:12:25)
And now fast forward, 20 years, those conditions, while general Milley, you said within maybe six to 36 months, the country will be ripe again, potentially to be launching strikes like that, our targets targeting against us. It doesn’t feel like its anything other than a surrender. But general McKenzie, you had mentioned that holding Baghran was untenable under the circumstances and that the Baghran option went away when you were given an in strength of 650. I understand that. I assume that you mean that it was untenable because of the troop limitation. But if you had not been limited, would your professional military advice been to relinquish Baghran?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:13:06)
So at a troop level of 2,500, we would have held Baghran, and that would have been my recommendation. That was my position.
Scott Franklin: (04:13:14)
Okay. So you had also mentioned that there was no tactical reason to hold Baghran. Would you elaborate? I assume that would mean, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but-
Gen. McKenzie: (04:13:24)
Scott Franklin: (04:13:24)
Strategically, would you see a value to us still being-
Gen. McKenzie: (04:13:27)
Right. So when I said there was no tactical reason to hold Baghran. I was specifically talking about the NEO operation? Okay. So once we went down to 650, and then we were given the orders to conduct a NEO. For the reasons the secretary and the chairman have already outlined, the center of gravity of that was actually HKIA. That’s where the people are. You’ve got the MOG operating capacity there to move airplanes in and out. I will tell you this though, representative, we had a branch plan to seize Baghran airfield should HKIA have become untenable, but that would have required as has already been noticed, significant investment in combat power. And Baghran and HKIA never became untenable. So we did not have to consider that plan, although we had a highly detailed plan to be able to do it, it simply was not necessary because we were able to maintain the throughput at HKAI. And again, had we gone into Baghran, we were introduced significant additional U.S. combat forces into the country and probably would have provoked another conflict with the Taliban, which would have been a political decision, not a military decision.
Scott Franklin: (04:14:24)
I understand. Political decision. But here it is since 1898, we’ve maintained Guantanamo Bay. So we do have a history of keeping territory, even in lands where we don’t have friendly forces there at our side. But I do know seeing already the challenge with over the horizon, conducting our strikes over the horizon, it sure would be nice to have that field now. Secretary Austin, I just want to wholeheartedly agree with chairman Smith’s comment earlier that we make the decisions in the world that we live in and we don’t have the luxury of having the magic wand. I get that. And that’s the world you all face every day. You told us that you would like to have seen this conflict end with negotiated settlement. General Milley you did as well. I know there’s been a lot of talk about whether president Trump should have been negotiating with the Taliban or not, and that’s a different conversation for another day. But those terms that were agreed to were not really complied with by the Taliban.
Scott Franklin: (04:15:23)
And here it is, we know that general Milley, in your testimony, seven of the eight conditions that were given to the Taliban were broken in light of that failure. Secretary Austin, do you think it was wise for us to continue with the timeline or do we feel compelled, because I constantly hear the administration pushing back saying, we had no choice. Our hands were tied. The Trump administration tied our hands to this timeline, but the Taliban didn’t comply with their end of the deal. And now we’re kind of stuck in a bad situation. Do you feel that we should have pushed a timeline? Not necessarily to stay in Afghanistan. I get it. I think that there’s a time for us to start negotiating an exit there, but in light of how disastrous the hasty withdrawal turn out to be, we could have used more time to get those folks out.
Sec. Austin: (04:16:14)
Well, quite frankly, because of the fact that for a year we weren’t striking the Taliban. They were increasing in combat power. We released 5,000 prisoners, which regenerated combat power for them. They were able to make advances against the Afghan security forces because weren’t doing things to fully support-
Chairman Smith: (04:16:44)
Again, I apologize. The gentleman’s time has expired. That’ll have to suffice. Mr. Panetta is recognized.
Jimmy Paneta: (04:16:51)
Thank you. I appreciate this hearing, Mr. Chair and good afternoon. And thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your service, not just in operation enduring freedom, but throughout your careers service to our great nation. As an American, as a veteran of OEF, I want to thank you for continuing to remind the American public, not to reduce the service of 800,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan down to a two week chaotic withdrawal. Not to reduce the sacrifice of the 2,461 men and women down to a single photo of a C-17 on the Kabul tarmac. But as you know, and as an American, as a veteran and as a representative, it is my duty to ask questions. And let me tell you, my constituents are asking a lot of questions. And I think the problem with the withdrawal is that it’s left more questions than answers.
Jimmy Paneta: (04:17:43)
With the withdrawal, we ended our involvement with the war in Afghanistan, but we still have the war on terror. We withdrew our troops, but will we have to go in? Yes, we evacuated 122,000 and you should be proud of that, but what about the others who’ve remained? And on that note, I just want you to think about the definition of success shouldn’t be based on how many people you got out, but how many people we left behind. And so what I’m hearing is a lot of frustration from my constituents who have family members there in Afghanistan, who literally have nobody to turn to, to get out when it comes to on the ground. They’re devastated by the deaths of the 12 Marines and the one sailor. And yes, I got to be frank. They’re a little humiliated seeing the Taliban drive around, screw around with American equipment. And this is hyperbole, but I do think it sums it up pretty good that I heard this quote about this frustration.
Jimmy Paneta: (04:18:37)
And it says, “Something’s not right when the Taliban can get American made ammunition easier than Americans can.” And for, I do believe that we are dumbfounded. Dumbfounded that this government, the Afghan government absolutely disappeared in hundreds of thousands of well-equipped Afghan troops, shed their uniforms, dropped their weapons and ran. I do believe though that the funder lying foundation for the reason for why this government crumble and why those troops fled is corruption. We basically supported a Potemkin village. And when we left it fell. And it basically set up a system as we saw throughout the 20 years there from birth certificates to death certificates, it was all about bribes. And what we were left with when we were about to leave, was a state that had grown so corrupt that governors were cutting deals with jihadists to switch sides.
Jimmy Paneta: (04:19:28)
Inflation was rampant because we were the money we handed out and it left ghost soldiers, basically absentees listed on the payroll so commanders could steal the salaries. Very similar to what happened in Vietnam, and you’re seeing a lot of similarities presented to that case. And there are a lot of studies, obviously after Vietnam, where it said corruption was a fundamental ill, that was largely responsible for the ultimate collapse. So my question to you is, do you believe that corruption was the fundamental ill that was largely responsible for the collapse of the Afghan government? If so, elaborate, if not, what would you consider the fundamental ill for the quick collapse of that government?
Sec. Austin: (04:20:13)
Thank you. I certainly agree that corruption played a major role in the collapse of the government and the security forces. I also believe that weak leadership added to that, the fact that president Ghani frequently without any apparent reason changed out his commanders, which degraded the confidence of the troops and their leadership. And then I believe also that the Doha agreement had a significant negative effect on the morale of the military. And so I think there’s a combination of a number of things that came together to create these effects. But I certainly agree that corruption was central to this issue.
Chairman Smith: (04:21:05)
General Milley: (04:21:07)
Absolutely. And I’d even take it one level higher. I think it’s about the legitimacy of the government and the eyes of the people in the eyes of its military. And I think that corruption is one of the contributing factors to delegitimize. It’s my observation that again, have to gather all the facts, but I think at the village level, the government of Afghanistan was looked at as parasitic, as opposed to supportive. With the exception possibly of the Afghan army itself. But the government, the local officials, the police forces, et cetera, were clearly de-legitimized in the eyes of the people. And that I think was a major contributing factor to the dissolution of the government and the army and the collapse of the whole thing in a very, very rapid period of time.
Jimmy Paneta: (04:21:47)
Thank you, again. I yield back my time. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Smith: (04:21:49)
Thank you. Okay. Quickly, we’re going to do Mr. Fallon than Mr. Horsford, and then we are going to be done. Mr. Fallon, you are recognized.
Pat Fallon: (04:21:57)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. During this hearing, the virtue of courage was used to describe the current president. And I think that’s misplaced. I think the virtue of courage should be attributed to the 2,461 troops that we lost that gave everything. The 20,698 that were maimed and injured and wounded, and the 800,000 that served. I’m a little perplexed, and thank you for being here. I wanted to clear something up during the testimony, general McKenzie, you were asked when you knew that the drone strike on August 29th had gone tragically wrong. And if correct me, you just yes or no. You said about five or six hours later you learned that. Is that correct?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:22:39)
That’s when we learned that civilians had been killed.
Pat Fallon: (04:22:41)
Okay. And so it went wrong?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:22:43)
No, I did not say that.
Pat Fallon: (04:22:44)
Gen. McKenzie: (04:22:45)
I said that’s when we learned that civilians had been killed. We still-
Pat Fallon: (04:22:48)
Would you have considered that five or six hours later, a righteous strike?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:22:53)
We took that strike based on the belief that the vehicle was going to be used in an attack against us.
Pat Fallon: (04:22:59)
So we knew that people that shouldn’t have been killed were killed five or six hours after, yes?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:23:03)
We knew that probably people that were not involved in the attacks [crosstalk 04:23:07].
Pat Fallon: (04:23:07)
All right. Thank you.
Gen. McKenzie: (04:23:08)
Took us a little longer to learn the rest of the story.
Pat Fallon: (04:23:11)
Agreed. Secretary Austin, same? You learned about five or six hours after that people that shouldn’t have been killed were killed?
Sec. Austin: (04:23:19)
Oh, I learned from general McKenzie’s reporting that there was collateral damage.
Pat Fallon: (04:23:23)
Okay. Thank you.
Sec. Austin: (04:23:24)
And whenever that happens, we investigate.
Pat Fallon: (04:23:25)
Okay. And then general Milley, on September 1st, three days later, you described it as a righteous strike. People that were not supposed to be killed were killed. And you described it as a righteous strike?
General Milley: (04:23:35)
Yeah. If you go back and look at the full quote, what I said was we followed the procedures. I had every reason to believe that we followed our procedures. At that point in time, we knew that there was civilians killed. We knew there were non-combatants and there was collateral damage.
Pat Fallon: (04:23:50)
Yes. You said, were others killed? Yes.
General Milley: (04:23:52)
Pat Fallon: (04:23:52)
Who were they? We don’t know. We’re trying to sort [crosstalk 04:23:54] through all that. It’s a righteous-
General Milley: (04:23:54)
That’s exactly what I said. That’s right. Because I believed-
Pat Fallon: (04:23:57)
We killed people we shouldn’t have. It was a righteous strike.
General Milley: (04:23:59)
I believe that the target that we’re aiming [crosstalk 04:24:02].
Pat Fallon: (04:24:02)
And I apologize. Thank you.
General Milley: (04:24:02)
We were aiming at was hit.
Pat Fallon: (04:24:04)
Okay. [crosstalk 04:24:05] I have three more minutes. Thank you. Now, generally Milley, you served under both president Trump and Biden.
General Milley: (04:24:09)
Pat Fallon: (04:24:10)
Okay. I’ve spoken with former secretary of state Pompeo, had a very extensive conversation with former national director of intelligence, John Ratcliffe. And what was the general sentiment of senior advisors? If conditions weren’t met, what would happen in Afghanistan? How long the Afghan army and government would last. Do you recall that? I would imagine you were sitting in on those meetings.
General Milley: (04:24:33)
I’m not sure I’m understanding the question. If the conditions are not met-
Pat Fallon: (04:24:36)
The conditions aren’t met and we withdraw, how long is the Afghan government going to last? Back then-
General Milley: (04:24:41)
I’m not going to speak for them. I’ll speak for myself.
Pat Fallon: (04:24:43)
Yeah. Please do, because [crosstalk 04:24:44]
General Milley: (04:24:45)
I’m on record. Having said that if we go to zero, there’s a high probability of the government and the Afghan army collapsing. In terms of time, I put that at between one and three years at the time I wrote this stuff back in a year ago in the fall of 2020.
Pat Fallon: (04:25:04)
So that’s interesting that you say that because when I talked to both Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Ratcliffe, they told me there was unanimity. Even president Trump said, if conditions are not met, that the Afghan army and the government would collapse within weeks and the longest they heard, maybe a month or two. That’s what they gave me, because I was just surprised that… Because secretary Austin said in his remarks today that the fact that the Afghan army, ” We and our partners trained simply melted away. In many cases was a shock.” John Radcliffe told me, he told his successor that they were going to collapse instantaneously if those conditions weren’t met. They were going to evaporate. And now we’re hearing that-
General Milley: (04:25:45)
I don’t know what was [crosstalk 04:25:46].
Pat Fallon: (04:25:47)
But I think general Milley, with all due respect.
General Milley: (04:25:48)
Pat Fallon: (04:25:49)
What I think it is, it was not a failure of intelligence, it seems to me. I didn’t know this stuff. I’m asking. I wasn’t in the room, you were, that it was a failure to heed that intelligence and act accordingly.
General Milley: (04:26:00)
I can show you the intelligence reports that were produced on Mr. Ratcliffe.
Pat Fallon: (04:26:04)
Thank you, and I appreciate that. I have 50 seconds left. So I appreciate that.
General Milley: (04:26:06)
Pat Fallon: (04:26:06)
Thank you. All right. So we got 5,000 bad guys in Bagram and jail at Bagram. Right? Am I right, general McKinsey? [crosstalk 04:26:15] And then we go down to 650. We can’t hold it. So we split, but around July 1st, I think we left.
General Milley: (04:26:21)
Gen. McKenzie: (04:26:21)
Pat Fallon: (04:26:21)
July 12th. And it fell August 15th? Correct? And they got out then?
General Milley: (04:26:25)
Gen. McKenzie: (04:26:25)
Pat Fallon: (04:26:26)
August 16th. And then we have an attack on our troops a couple of weeks later. Can any of you guarantee the American people that, of those 5,000 bad guy scumbags, none of them were directly responsible for killing our troops?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:26:39)
No, I cannot.
General Milley: (04:26:40)
I cannot guarantee that, no.
Pat Fallon: (04:26:41)
Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back my time.
Chairman Smith: (04:26:45)
Thank you. Mr. Horsford is recognized.
Steven Horsford: (04:26:45)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you, Mr. Secretary, and to the generals, I’ll be brief. I have several questions and appreciate your concise response. General McKenzie, on August 30th, you told the media that while you maintain the ability to bring American citizens and civilians out until immediately before the departure of the final flight, no civilians were on those aircraft. And that mission ended approximately 12 hours before the exit. So to clarify, when did the last American citizens successfully pass through Taliban perimeter into HKIA gate?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:27:23)
That’s a very specific question. I’ll have to come back to you on the record, but I will come back to you.
Steven Horsford: (04:27:28)
Thank you. And when did the last Afghan civilian successfully pass through the gate?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:27:32)
Same thing. It was some hours before, but I’ll come back to you with an exact time on that.
Steven Horsford: (04:27:36)
And how many individuals successfully passed through the Taliban perimeter in the 72 hours proceeding the departure of the final flight?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:27:45)
Probably in the low hundreds, but I’ll come back to you with an exact number.
Steven Horsford: (04:27:49)
Thank you. I understand that on August 19th, ground commanders authorized the use of helicopters to rescue 169 Americans from the Baron Hotel after the initial plan for them to proceed on foot became too dangerous. At what time were rotary wing aviation assets no longer operation at HKIA.
Gen. McKenzie: (04:28:12)
So first of all, you’re right. The Baron Hotel, we should know it’s about 200 meters off the HKIA compound. So it’s not a long distance, but we did use helicopters for that. We kept helicopters up until the very end. In fact, one of the final things we did before actually extracting from the C-17s was breaking down some helicopters and loading them.
Steven Horsford: (04:28:31)
And what were the specific contingency plans to continue the evacuation if the Taliban closed checkpoints surrounding the airport?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:28:40)
So at all times, we are prepared to accept American citizens, that they were able to make it to the gate. There was an external Taliban cordon. We’ve talked about that. The external Taliban cordon was actually part of the force protection scheme for the base. Commanders on the ground had to balance their force protection against the need to allow Americans, SIVs and others to enter. So we tried to work closely when we could with the Taliban to ensure free passage for Americans. I would say-
Steven Horsford: (04:29:08)
So why then were the plans not implemented once it became clear that no additional American citizens were going to be allowed to pass through the Taliban checkpoints?
Gen. McKenzie: (04:29:20)
We attempted to with the Taliban to allow Americans to be able to get to the gate up until the very end. I do not have facts on why that did not happen.
Steven Horsford: (04:29:29)
Gen. McKenzie: (04:29:29)
Our presence on the ground, and we should remember it was very small and we were beginning to turn inward as we prepare to extract.
Steven Horsford: (04:29:35)
Okay. General Milley, in 2017 the GAO released a report on recommendations to enhance the readiness of the global response force to support contingency operations. In June of 2021 GAO assessed that the department had not implemented any of their three recommendations to improve readiness due to the ongoing development of the dynamic force employment concept. So I’m curious what percentage of the total immediate response force and existing pre-positioned forces deployed in support of operation spartan shield were deployed to HKIA to assist in the NEO? And how many additional battalions intended to be an IRF follow on force were available for short notice deployment, but not deployed?
General Milley: (04:30:27)
We had, and Frank can correct me to a hundred percent here in a minute, but we had two battalions, the MEU and another marine battalion pre-positioned in the middle east, along with an army infantry battalion pre-positioned in the middle east. And there was a battalion already on the ground. So that’s four. Plus we alerted on the secretary’s order, marshaled and deployed the IRF and the GRF, which is a brigade of the 82nd airborne division, very, very rapidly. And we had 6,000 troops at HKIA very, very rapidly. I think we far exceeded any of the standards that are published for the [inaudible 04:31:08] In addition to that, we had a variety of high end special operations forces that alerted, marshaled and deployed extraordinarily rapidly. So we easily met any kind of rapid deployment standards and we exceeded them.
Steven Horsford: (04:31:22)
Thank you, gentlemen, for your service to our military men and women, and to our veterans, who’ve served over the 20 years during this longest war in history, U.S. history. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
Chairman Smith: (04:31:36)
Thank you. And thank you gentlemen, for your testimony’s today. And I know certainly it was a contentious hearing, but it is enormously important that we have the opportunity to have these conversations. I do not in any way support some of the comments that some of my colleagues made or the way they chose to conduct themselves, but that is a small price to pay for the transparency that we need to allow the committee to do its job. I appreciate you being willing to do that and giving us the opportunity to have this discussion. And we will certainly continue to discuss the situation in south Asia as we go forward. Appreciate your testimony. Mr. Rogers, anything for the good of the order?
Mr. Rogers: (04:32:14)
Yeah. Mr. Chairman, the one thing I would like to ask is that as soon as practical that we do have the classified hearing over the horizon capabilities, because I’ve spoken individually with all three of these gentlemen. I’m very concerned about our counter-terrorism capabilities and how we’re going to address that.
Chairman Smith: (04:32:31)
We will have multiple classified hearings on that subject. That’s going to be an ongoing topic, but yes, it is something we need to do. So thank you again. We are adjourned.