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tv   Defense Secretary Joint Chiefs Chair Others Testify on Afghanistan...  CSPAN  October 4, 2021 2:03pm-5:35pm EDT

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bacon for their leadership in introducing this important legislation and for assembling a broad and bipartisan coalition of stakeholders in support of the bill, including the department of justice and advocacy groups that span the entire ideological spectrum. i strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan bill today. and i yield back the balance of my time. c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more, including comcast. >> do you think this is just a community center? no. it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with 1000 community centers to create wifi-enabled lift zones so students from low-income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. >> comcast supports c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. for the first time since the
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u.s. departed afghanistan after 20 years in the country, military leaders defense secretary lloyd austin, joint chiefs chair general mark milley, and u.s. central command general kenneth mckenzie testified on the withdrawal before the u.s. armed services committee.
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let me call the hearing to order. first, an administrative action. since a quorum is now present, i ask the committee to consider a list of. the u.s. air force for reappointment to the greater general and to the commander u.s. transportation command, all of these nominations have been before the committee to require length of time. is there a motion to favorably
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report this list of 993 pending military nominations to the senate? is there a second? >> second. >> all in favor, please say aye. >> aye. >> the motion carries. thank you. good morning. the committee meets today to discuss the end of american military operations in afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war enormous sacrifice by american and coalition military, diplomatic and intelligence personnel, and vast u.s. investment, the afghan state has failed and the taliban has taken control. we need to understand why and how. as part of this hearing we will seek to understand the factors that contributed to the taliban's rapid takeover of the country and the collapse of the afghan national defense and security forces. while there is a temptation to close the book on afghanistan and simply move onto long-term strategic competition with china and russia, we must capture the lessons of the last two decades to ensure that our future
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counterterrorism efforts in afghanistan and elsewhere continue to hold violent extremists at bay. much of this hearing will focus on our final months in afghanistan. i think it is equally important, however, that this committee takes a step back and examines the broader two-day mission that shaped the outcome we face today. our withdrawal this summer and our events surrounded it did not happen in a vacuum. the path that led to this moment was paved with years of mistakes from our catastrophic pivot to iraq, to our failure to handle pakistan's support for the taliban, to the doha agreement signed by president trump. the members of this committee have overseen chapters, both democratic and republican, and we owe the american people an honest accounting. i hope that this hearing will be frank in searching for the future generations of americans will not repeat our mistakes.
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witnesses today are secretary lloyd austin, secretary of defense general mark milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and general frank mckenzie, commander of the u.s. central command. i welcome each of you and thank you for your many years of service. i also want to commend and thank our military men and women for their heroic efforts to evacuate more than 124,000 american citizens, afghan special immigrant visa applicants, and other at-risk afghans over 17 days in chaotic chaotic and per conditions. we especially honor the brave servicemen and women. so how did we get here? there are countless decisions and factors that could be pointed to, but i would highlight a few that clearly pave the way. earlier in the war we did achieve our original counterterrorism objective of significantly degrading al qaeda in afghanistan. over time, however, that mission
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morphed into convoluted counterinsurgency and nationbuilding. the lack of a defined strategy continue to erode the mission. one of the clearest inflexion points was the ill-fated decision to go to war in iraq just as we had begun to achieve momentum in afghanistan, resources were drawn away from afghanistan. we were never able to get back on track. throughout the war, we were also unsuccessful in dealing with pakistan's support of the taliban even as american diplomats sat down with pakistani leaders and our forces cooperated on counterterrorism missions, the taliban with sanctuary. more recently the taliban's resurgence can be tied to the doha agreement which president
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trump signed in 2020. this deal negotiated between the trump administration and the taliban without our coalition allies or even the afghan government present promised the end of the entire international presence in afghanistan including contractors critical to keeping the afghan air force in the fight with virtually no stipulations. the taliban with momentum on the battlefield and no incentives under the doha agreement, boldly escalate violence. despite colossal efforts over multiple administrations, both democratic and republican, we were unable to help build an afghan government capable of leading its people, nor an afghan security force capable of defeating the taliban. afghan soldiers bought bravely, but with corruption from within, they were unable to stand on their own against taliban
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forces. secretary austin, general milley, general mckenzie, you have each led troops in combat in afghanistan, commandered at the theater level, and advised our nation's top leaders on our afghanistan strategy. you have played significant roles throughout this war, and i hope that you are forthcoming in your answers today. to begin i would ask that you provide an accounting of the intelligence and other key assessments that factored into your judgment of the viability of the afghan government and afghan forces and how those trends changed over time. i'd like to know any lessons you have identified for how we can more effectively work by, with, and through partner nation forces in the future. additionally, i would like to understand what factorsu attribute to the taliban's success and whether we missed indicators and warnings of their imminent takeover. finally, while we have transitioned our military from afghanistan after largely achieving our counterterrorism objectives, we must continue to ensure that afghanistan can never again be used as a base
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for terrorist groups to conduct operations against the united states and our allies. we must remain vigilant about these threats and ensure that we establish an effective counterterrorism architecture moving forward. to that end i would ask that you update the committee on your plans for over-the-horizon counterterrorism operations. the united states faces new and evolving threats around the world we must first understand what went wrong in our mission. we owe it to the american people. i want to thank you again for being here this morning, and i look forward to your testimony. now, before i turn to the ranking member, for the benefit of my colleagues, because we have two rounds of open testimony and a closed-session following, i will strictly enforce the five-minute limit allowed for each member. i intend to recess at 1:00 p.m. for lunch and promptly resume at 1:30 p.m. i would again remind my colleagues that there will be classified briefing immediately
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following the open session, the office of senate security. again, before i turn to ranking member inhofe, i want to note that the rules of the committee state that witness testimony should be sent to the committee 48 hours in advance. and it is customary that at the very latest testimony arrive before the hearing. i am disappointed that they were not sent to the committee until late last evening, giving staff very little time to review. i hope that when these witnesses appear again before this committee, they will follow the committee rules and customs. now, let me turn to ranking member inhofe. >> thank you, mr. chairman. let's make sure everyone understands that the five-minute limit doesn't affect opening statements. let me say a little bit stronger the statement that was made by our chairman that we should -- there's no reason that they waited until late last night to
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send this information to us, all these members, they want to be well-informed, and they didn't have that opportunity. i want to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to our service members and our veterans, our men and women in uniform bravely volunteered to go into harm's way for one reason, to keep their fellow americans safe. they represent our very best. especially i want to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice in their families on august 26th we were reminded so painful of what we ask our troops and their families to do. they laid it all on the line for this country. those 13 men and women died trying to evacuate their fellow americans and at-risk afghans from kabul under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. so i want to be perfectly clear.
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the frustration on this committee about the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from afghanistan is not and should never be directed towards our troops. it was president biden and his advisers who put them in that situation. even worse, this was avoidable. everything that happened was foreseen. my colleagues on this committee and the commanders in charge, we saw it coming so we were here today to understand what happened and why that advice was ignored. general mckenzie, you said in february before the president decided to fully withdraw from afghanistan, quote, you have to take a condition-based approach. you express your concern about actions that the taliban had
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taken up until this point, meaning that the taliban was not constraining al qaeda as it had agreed to do so under the conditions-based agreement that it signed with the trump administration. that it was a condition-based statement. around the same time, general miller, who was then the commander of the u.s. forces afghanistan, advised his chain of command to keep approximately 2,500 troops in the country. he warned that the taliban might otherwise take over. general mckenzie, you offered a similar warning when you last testified before this committee in april right after the president made his decision to withdraw. you said, quote, my concern is the ability of the afghan military to hold the ground that they are now on without the support that they have been used
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to for many years. throughout this spring, we saw many districts quickly fall to the taliban, many without firing a shot. this is why i urged president biden in june to rethis have his approach and maintain a small force in afghanistan in order to prevent the collapse we ultimately saw. it was also why the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle spent months urging the administration to evacuate americans and our afghan partners sooner. but president biden and his advisers didn't listen to his combat commander, he didn't listen to congress, and he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen. so, in august we all witnessed the horror of the president's own making, afghans died as they
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desperately gripped into the departing flights, the taliban is in a stronger position than it had been in 9/11. the terrorist haqqani members are now in senior government positions. we went from we will never negotiate with terrorists to we must negotiate with terrorists. in the years that i've been here, we've heard over and over again you don't negotiate with terrorists. and now it's required. worst of all, 13 brave americans were killed in the evacuation effort three days later the biden administration said it was -- said it struck an isis operative. in fact it killed ten afghan civilians including children. the drawdown by doing the unthinkable. he left the americans behind.
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the men and women who served in uniform, their heroic families and the american people deserve answers. how did this avoidable disaster happen? why were americans left behind? president biden's decision to withdraw has expanded the threat of terrorism and increased the likelihood of an attack on the homeland. the administration is telling the american people that the plan to deal with these threats is something called over-the-horizon counterterrorism in that we do these types of operations elsewhere in the world. that's misleading at best and dishonest at worse. there is no plan, we have no reliable partners on the ground. we have no bases nearby. the afghan government is now led by terrorists with long ties to al qaeda, and we're at the mercy
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of pakistan government to get into the afghan airspace. even if we can get there, we can't strike al qaeda in afghanistan because we're worried about what the taliban will do in america -- to the americans who are still there, and americans are still there. the administration needs to be honest because of president biden's dishonest decision. the terrorist threat to american families is rising significantly while our ability to deal with these threats has declined. we will have another hearing with expert witnesses on thursday. that's just two days from now. we understand the undersecretary of defense has agreed to testify in that hearing. so, today is really just a start.
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so, in conclusion, i would just like to say this. president biden made a strategic decision to leave afghanistan, which resulted in the death of 13 u.s. servicemembers, the deaths of hundreds of afghan civilians including women and children. that's what terrorists do. and left american citizens surrounded by the very terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. and they're still there. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you very much, senator inhofe. secretary austin and chairman milley, the dohar agreement -- oh, excuse me. we want to give you an opportunity to have opening statements, as i've been reminded. so, gentleman austin, you are recognized. >> chairman reed, ranking member
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inhofe, members of this committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss our recent drawdown and evacuation operations in afghanistan. i'm pleased to be joined by generals milley and mckenzie, who i know will be able to provide you with additional context. i'd like to make a few points before turning it over to you and to them. and, first, i want to say how incredibly proud i am of the men and women of the u.s. armed forces who conducted themselves with tremendous skill and professionalism throughout the war, the drawdown, 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 can not be seen on the outside. and we can discuss and debate the decisions, the policies, and the turning points since april
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of this year when the president made clear his intent to end american involvement in this war. and we can debate the decisions over 20 years that led us to this point. but i know that you agree with me that one thing not open to debate is the courage and the compassion of our servicemembers, along with their families who served and sacrificed to make sure that our homeland would never again be attacked the way it was on 9/11. 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. and 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 span of time. in fact, i'd like to talk to you a little bit about that issue of
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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 of a noncombatant evacuation as far back as this spring. by late april, two weeks after the president's decision, military planners had crafted a number of evacuation scenarios. in mid-may, i ordered central command to make preparations for potential neo. and two weeks later i began pre-positioning forces in the region to include three infantry battalions. on the 10th of august we ran another tabletop exercise around a noncombatant evacuation scenario. we wanted to be ready, and we were. in fact, by the time that the state department called for a neo, leading elements of the 24th marine competitionry element were already on the ground in kabul. before that weekend was out, another 3,000 or so ground troops had arrived including elements of the 82nd airborne.
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but let's 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 scenes of confusion outside the airport. but within 48 hours our troops restored order and process began to take hold. our soldiers, airmen, and marines in partnership with our allies and partners and our state department colleagues secured the gates, took control of airport operations and set up a processing system for the tens of thousands of people they would be manifesting unto airplanes. they and our commanders exceeded all expectations. we planned to execute between 70 -- we planned to evacuate between 70 and 80,000 people. they evacuated more than
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124,000. we planned to move between five and 9,000 people per day. on average they moved slightly between more than 7,000 per day. on military aircraft alone, we flew more than 387 -- averaging nearly 23 per day. at the height of this operation, an aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes. and not a single -- was missed for maintenance fuel or logistical problems. it was the largest airlift conducted in u.s. history, and it was executed in 17 days. was it perfect? of course not. we moved so many people so quickly out of kabul that we ran into capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside afghanistan. and we're still working to get americans out who wish to leave. and we did not get out all of our afghan allies enrolled in a special immigrant visa program. we take that seriously, and
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that's why we're working across the interagency to continue facilitating their departure. even with no military presence on the ground, that part of our mission is not over. and tragically, lives were lost. several afghans killed climbing aboard an aircraft on that first day. 13 brave u.s. servicemembers and dozens of afghan civilians killed in a terrorist attack on the 26th, and we took as many as ten innocent lives in a drone strike on the 29th. noncombatant evacuations remain 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, on
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the 13th to the 15th of august, we went from working alongside a democratically elected longtime partner government to coordinating with a longtime enemy. we operated in a deeply dangerous environment. and it proved a lesson in pragmatism and professionalism. we learned a lot of other lessons, too, about how to turn an air force base in qatar into an international airport overnight and how to process large numbers of people. nothing like this has ever been done before, and no other military in the world could've pulled it off. and i think that is crucial. now, i know that members of this committee will have questions on many things, such as why we turned over bagram airfield and how real is our over-the-horizon capability, and why didn't we start evacuations sooner, and why didn't we stay longer to get more people out? so let me take each in turn.
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retaining bagram would've required putting as many as 5,000 u.s. troops in harm's way just to operate and defend it. and it would've contributed little to the mission that we'd been assigned. and that was to protect and defend the embassy, which was some 30 miles away. that distance from kabul also rendered bagram of little value in the evacuation. even more counterterrorism purposes meant staying at war in afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do. 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. indeed, just days ago we conducted one such strike in syria, eliminating a senior al qaeda figure. over-the-horizon operations are difficult but absolutely
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possible. and the intelligence that supports them comes from a variety of sources and not just u.s. 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 collapse of the afghan government that we wanted to avoid, and that moving too late would put our people and our operations at greater risk. and, as i said, the fact that our troops were on the ground so quickly is due in large part to our planning and our pre-positioning of forces. and as for the mission's end, my judgment remains that extending beyond the end of august would've greatly imperilled our people and our mission. the taliban made clear that their cooperation would end on the first of september. and, as you know, we faced grave
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and growing threats from isis-k. staying longer than we did would've made it even more dangerous for our people. it would not have significantly changed a number of evacuees we could get out. now, as we consider these tactical issues today, we must also ask ourselves some equally tough questions about the wider war itself. and think about the lessons we have learned over the past 20 years. 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, an air force, a police force, and government ministries? we helped build a state, mr. chairman, but we could not forge a nation. 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
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uncomfortable truths, that we didn't fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in the senior ranks. that we didn't grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by president ghani of his commanders. that we didn't anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the taliban commander struck with local leaders in the wake of the doha agreement. and that the doha agreement itself had a demoralizing effect on afghan soldiers. and, finally, that we failed to 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. over the years they often fought bravely. tens of thousands of afghan soldiers and police 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
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am personally reckoning with all of that. but i hope that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride and the way that our people fought it. they prevented another 9/11. they showed extraordinary courage and compassion in the war's last days, and they made lasting progress in afghanistan that the taliban will find difficult to reverse and that the international community should work hard to preserve. now, our servicemembers and civilians face a new mission, helping these afghan evacuees move onto new lives and new places, and they are performing that one magnificently as well. i spent time with some of them up at joint base maguire just yesterday. 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. >> thank you, mr. secretary.
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general milley, i believe you have a statement. >> chairman reed, ranking member inhofe, thank you for the opportunity to be here with secretary austin and general mckenzie to discuss afghanistan. as you mentioned up front, we submitted matters for the record, lengthy statement of this cut-down oral version. and i know it got too late. 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 of us gave the ultimate sacrifice. while 20,698 of us were wounded in action, and countless others of us suffer the invisible wounds of war.
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there's no doubt in my mind that our efforts prevented an attack on the homeland from afghanistan, which was our core, original mission. and everyone who served in that war 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. at the peak in 2011, we had 97,000 u.s. troops alongside 41,000 nato troops in afghanistan. ten years later when ambassador signed the doha agreement with mullah barader, the united states had 12,600 u.s. troops with 8,000 nato and 10,500 contractors. this has been a ten-year
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multiadministration drawdown, not a 19-month or 19-day n.e.o. under the dohar agreement, the u.s. would begin to withdraw its forces, contingent upon 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 conditions applicable to the united states. while the taliban did not attack u.s. forces, which was one of the conditions, it failed to fully honor any other condition under the dohar agreement. and perhaps, most importantly, for u.s. national security, the taliban has never renounced al qaeda or broke its affiliation with them. we the united states adhered to every condition. in the fall of 2020, my analysis was that an accelerated
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withdrawal without meeting specific and necessary conditions, risks lose the substantial gains made in afghanistan, damaging u.s. worldwide credibility and could precipitate a general collapse of the nsf and the afghan government resulting in a complete taliban takeover or general civil war. that was a year ago. my assessment remained consistent throughout. based on my advice and the advice of the commanders, then secretary of defense esper submitted a memorandum on 9 november recommending to maintain u.s. forces at a level between 254,500 in afghanistan until conditions were met for further reduction. two days later on 11 november 2020, i received an unclassified, signed order directing the united states
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military to withdraw all forces from afghanistan no later than 15 january, 2021. after further discussions regarding the risks associated with such a withdrawal, the order was rescinded. on 17 november we received a new order, to reduce levels to 2,500 plus enabling forces no later than 15 january. when president biden was inaugurated, there were approximately 3,500 u.s. troops, 5,400 nato troops, and 6,300 contractors in afghanistan with a specified task of train, advise, and assist, along with a small contingent of counterterrorism forces. the strategic situation of inauguration was stalemate. the biden administration through the national security council process conducted a rigorous interagency review of the situation in afghanistan in february, march, and april. during this process, the views
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of the joint chiefs of staff, all of us, the centcom commander, general mckenzie, the u.s. 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. the cause, benefit, risk to force and risk to mission were evaluated against the national security objectives of the united states. on 14 april, the president announced his decision, and the u.s. military received a change of mission to retrograde all u.s. military forces, maintain a small contingency force of 6 to 700 to protect the embassy in kabul until a department of state could coordinate contractor security support, and also to assist turkey to maintain the karzai international airport and transition the u.s. military to an over-the-horizon counterterrorism support and security force assistance. it is clear, it is obvious the
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war in afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted, with the taliban now in power in kabul. although the n.e.o. was unprecedented and as the largest air evacuation in history, evacuating 124,000 people, it came at an incredible cost of 11 marines, one soldier, and a navycorpsman. those 13 people gave their lives so that people they never met will have an opportunity to live in freedom. we must remember that the taliban was and remains a terrorist organization, and they still have not broken ties 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 of america and its people from terrorist attacks coming from afghanistan.
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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 ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12 to 36 months. 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 chairmen, ten centcom commanders, 20 commanders in afghanistan, hundreds of congressional delegation visits and 20 years of congressional oversight, there are many lessons to be learned. two, specific to the military that we need to take a look at and we will, is did we mirror image the development of the afghan national army. and the second is the rapid collapse unprecedented rapid collapse of the afghan military in only 11 days in august.
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however, one lesson must never be forgotten. every soldier, sailor, airmen or marine who served there in afghanistan for 20 consecutive years, protected our country from attack by terrorists. and for that they should be forever proud, and we should be forever grateful. thank you, chairman, and, if i could, i know that there are some issues in the media that are of deep concern to many members on the committee. and with your permission i'd like to address those for a minute or two. again, i've submitted memoranda for the committee to take a look at. >> you may proceed. >> mr. chairman, i've served this nation for 42 years. i spent years in combat and i buried a lot of my troops who have 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 is absolute, and i
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will not turn my back on the fallen. with respect to the chinese calls, i routinely communicated with my counterpart general li, with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. i am specifically directed to communicate with the chinese by department of defense guidance, the policy dialogue system. these military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the united states in order to deconflict military actions, manage crisis, and present, prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world's most deadliest weapons. the calls on 30 october and 8 january were coordinated before and after with secretary esper and acting secretary miller's staff and the interagency. the specific purpose of the october and january calls were to generate -- were generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the chinese
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were worried about an attack on them by the united states. i know, i am certain that president trump did not intend to attack the chinese, and it is my directed responsibility, and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the chinese. my task at that time was to de-escalate my message again was consistent, stay calm, steady, and de-escalate. we are not going to attack you. i made a call to general li on 30 october, eight people sat in that call with me and i read out the call within 30 minutes of the call ending. on 31 december, the chinese requested another call with me. the department assistant secretary of defense for asia pacific policy helped coordinate my call, which was then
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scheduled for 8 january, and he made a preliminary call on 6 january. 11 people attended that call with me and readouts of this call were distributed to the interagency that same day. shortly after my call ended with general li, i personally informed both secretary of state pompeo and white house chief of staff meadows about the call, among 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 8 january, speaker of the house pelosi called me to inquire about the president's 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 very various personal references, characterizing the president. i explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn't
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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 that there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch. by presidential directive and secretary of defense directives, the chairman is part of the process to ensure 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 dod instruction, 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 the procedures which we practiced daily at the action
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officer level. additionally, i immediately informed acting secretary of defense miller of speaker pelosi's phone call. at no time was i attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself in the chain of command. but i am expected, i am required to give my advice and ensure that the president is fully informed on military matters. i am submitting for the record a more detailed and unclassified memoranda. and i welcome a thorough walkthrough on every single one of these events. i'd be happy in a classified detail to talk about these calls. i'm also happy to make available any email, phone logs witness memoranda or other things to understand these events. my oath is to protect the constitution of the united states of america against all enemies foreign and domestic,
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and identify new turn my back on that oath. i firmly believe military control is essential to the health of this republic, and i am committed to ensuring that the military stays clear of domestic politics. i look forward to your questions and thank you, chairman, for the extra time. >> thank you, general mckenzie. i understand you do not have a statement. is that correct? >> i waive my statement in order to get us back on schedule. >> thank you very much, general. secretary austin, the dohar agreement represents direct negotiations with terrorists, and not just negotiations but an agreement with them that excluded the afghan government and the allies who have been fighting with us now since 9/11. it set a fixed departure date with conditions has been
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indicated. as you considered in april what to do, did the intelligence suggest to you that reneging on the departure of the troops would lead to significant attacks against american and allied military forces? >> chairman, to my recollection, the intelligence was clear that if we did not leave in accordance with that agreement, the taliban would recommence attacks on our forces. >> and they would include attacks and any other means they could use to attack american forces? >> that's correct, chairman. >> so, the choice was, in many respects, were we going to incur additional casualties
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indefinitely in afghanistan? that's one way to look at it, is that fair? >> that's correct, chairman. we certainly would have to take additional measures to defend yourself if the taliban attacks against us. >> general milley and general mckenzie. did the doha agreement effect the morale of the afghan forces? ie, was there a sense now that even though it was months away that the united states was leaving since we had agreed to leave? >> i'll let frank talk the details but my assessment is yes, senator, it did affect the morale of the afghan security forces. >> general mckenzie. >> to my judgment the doha
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agreement did negatively affect the performance of the afghan forces, in particular by some of the actions the governor of afghanistan was required to take as part of that agreement. >> and one of the critical issues was that agreement to withdraw contractors, which are basically the engine that maintains the air force of afghanistan and many other logistical operations. and that was just as critical as the troop departure i would assume. >> chairman, it was. we had plans in place to try to conduct those operations from over the horizon. they were not as effective as having contractors on the ground on site with the aircraft.
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>> the momentum appeared to be shifting to the taliban. indications were their penetration of parts in the country in the northern sectors particularly which traditionally opposed the taliban, northern alliance. but that started to be -- to be fair, that started long before doha. there are some commentators who suggested since 2014 the taliban have been surrounding provincial capitals and -- themselves into the politics of the local community, striking bargains. is that your impression too general mckenzie? >> sir, i think it is a good assessment that from 2014 on the taliban did pursue that strategy. and they had some success. and the government of afghanistan also had success holding on to centralized urban areas in population centers.
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but the taliban pursued a distinct strategy and had some success with it. >> now, general -- excuse me. secretary austin. you did provide your best military advice to the president regarding the situation in afghanistan and recounted several times through multiple meetings. and he received advice from many different quarters. you feel that you have the opportunity to make your advice very clear? >> i do, chairman. as i said before, i always keep my advice to the president confidential. but i am very much satisfied that we had a thorough policy review. and i believe that all of the parties had an opportunity to provide input. and that input was received. >> thank you very much.
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senator inhofe. >> thank you mr. chairman. it was two weeks ago that we had a closed, classified hearing with general miller's recommendation at that time. let me mention that during the confirmation process you committed and speaking now to general mckenzie and general milley, your honest and -- even if those views differs from the administration and i'm confident that you would be doing that. during this hearing that we had we -- it was emphasized to us from general miller that we -- he was recommending the 2,500 troops in afghanistan. now we didn't receive the documentation from your offices i say to the witnesses today
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until actually 10:35 last night. so there really wasn't time to get into a lot of the details. but i'd ask general mckenzie, did you agree to the recommendation that general miller had two weeks ago? >> senator, again, i -- i won't share my personal recommendation with the president. but i will give you my honest opinion. and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. i recommended that we maintain 2500 troops in afghanistan. and i also recommended early in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4500 at that time. those are my personal views. i also have a view that withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of afghanistan military forces and eventually the afghan government. >> understand that. and general milley. i assume you agree with that in terms of the recommendation of 2500? >> what i said in my opening statement and the memoranda that i wrote back in the fall of 2020 remained consistent. and i do agree with that. >> this committee is unsure as to whether or not general miller's recommendation ever got to the president.
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you know, obviously there are conversations with the president. but i would like to ask, even though general mckenzie i think you have all made this statement, did you talk to the president about general miller's recommendation? >> sir, i was present when that discussion occurred. and i'm confident the president heard the recommendations and left hand to them thoughtfully. >> one of the recommendations made by the three of you would be the recommendation that originally was made by general miller's two weeks ago. during the august 18 interview on abc, george stephanopoulos asked president biden whether u.s. troops would stay beyond august 31st if there are still americans to evacuate. president biden responded -- and this is a quote, if there's american citizens left, we're going to stay to get them all out. this didn't happen. the president biden's decision resulted in all the troops leaving, but the american
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citizens are still trying to get out. how many -- how many american citizens is it your opinion are still there? just go down the line each one of you. anyone? >> senator, i would defer to the state department for that -- for that assessment. that's a dynamic process. they have been contacting the civilians that are in afghanistan and again i would refer to them for those numbers. >> others? >> same. there were numbers beginning of this whole process. the f 77 report out of the embassy and we know we took out almost 6,000 american citizens
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but -- >> do all of you agree that secretary of state blinken when he made his announcement. he talked about the 10 to 15,000 citizens left behind evacuated some 6,000. that would mean a minimum of 4,000 would be still there now. anyone disagree with that? by your silence i assume you agree. >> i -- no, i don't -- i personally don't believe that there are 4,000 american citizens still left in afghanistan. but i cannot confirm or deny that, senator. >> so you think secretary of state was probably wrong in his analysis. thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you. and just for the record, the chair and the vice chair/ranking member have each abided by the five minute rule.
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so fair's fair. >> thank you mr. chairman, and thank you secretary austin, general milley and general mckenzie for being here this morning. and secretary austin and general milley thank you for your effort to put into some historical perspective what happened in afghanistan. and for recognizing incredible service and sacrifice of the troop who is served there. general milley in a hearing before the senate appropriation sub committee on defense in june, i explicitly raised concerns about the flight of at risk afghans due to our withdraw and i asked about the department's plans to evacuate them. you explicitly told the committee that in your professional opinion you did not
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see saigon 1975 in afghanistan. so i'm just trying to figure out why we missed, or from a public perception, it appears we didn't anticipate the rapid fall of afghanistan and kabul and the rise of the taliban in the way we saw it play out on television. and what did we miss? >> i think senator, we absolutely missed the rapid 11-day collapse of the afghan military and the collapse of the government.
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i think there was a lot of intelligence that clearly indicated that after we withdrew, that it was a likely outcome of the collapse of the military and collapse of the government. most of those intelligence assessments indicated that that would occur late fall, perhaps early winter. kabul might hold till next spring. depends on when the intel assessment was written. so after we leave, the assessments were pretty consistent, that you would see a
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general collapse of the government and the military. while we were there though, up through 31 august, i don't -- there is no intel assessment that says the government is going to collapse and military is going to collapse in 11 day, a that i'm aware of. and i've ready pretty much, i think, all of them. even as late as the 3rd of august and another on the 8th of august, etc. they are still talking weeks, perhaps months, etc. general mckenzie can illuminate on his own views on the same topic. he gave his assessments at the same time. and although general miller did in many, many assessments say rapid, fast, hard for collapse. he also said centered into the october/november time frame as opposed to august. >> so how do we avoid that happening again? >> i think the key, senator, that we missed, frankly. we had some indicators but we didn't have the full wholesome assessment of leadership, morale and will. there were some units. and i don't want to say negative things about these guys, the 60, 70,000 of the afghan service that were killed in action over the last 20 years and many units did fight at the very end. but the vast majority put their weapons down and melted away in a very very short period of time. i think that has to do with will, leadership. and i think we still need to try to figure out exactly why that was. and i have some suggestions. but i'm not settled on them yet. but we clearly missed that. i think one of the key factors we missed it for was we pulled our advisors off three years ago.
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and when you pull the advisors out of units you can no longer assess certain things. we can count planes guns, automobiles, machine guns and everything else. we can count from space and intel assets but you can't measure the human heart with a machine. you got to be there. >> thank you. secretary austin. i'm about to run out of time so you may want to respond to this on the next round. but one of the challenges with getting special immigrant visa applicants out of afghanistan has -- and this wasn't just a problem in the evacuation. that's been a historic problem over years, has been having the documents that show they
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actually served with our military. and dod has been cited as the major problem getting those documents. how do we make sure that doesn't happen again in some future conflict where we need our partners on the ground to serve alongside of our military members. and i'm out of time. so hopefully you will answer that. thank you. >> thank you senator shaheen. senator wicker please. >> before i ask my question, i have an objection. we've been having hearing in a classified setting on this our first public hearing. i'm sorry kaine had to step away. but in a previous hearing he expressed frustration in various hearings he'd been to and frustration that i shared, that when the state department is here and we ask them a question. and they said you have to asked the defense department. and now today again defense department people are before us and the question was asked and answer to senator inhofe as well, you will have to ask the state department that. senator kaine gently but
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fatherly sent a message to the administration on our last classified hearing, that we need to cut that out. members of the defense department need to be ready for the questions that we have asked and that we're going to ask. so i object to continuation of that at this hearing today. while i'm at it, i would also point out general milley, i appreciate your statement and i've read it. and i understand what you are trying to say. i -- but further than what you, umm, mentioned, the allegation is that you told combatant commanders to report back to you. our clear understanding is that you are not in the chain of command, that they report directly to the commander in chief through the secretary. so to the extend that you told them to report to you, they were not in your chain of command. let me see if i can get one question in here, having taken two minutes to mention a very
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important objection. general milley. in the fall of 2020, you said an accelerated withdrawal would risk substantial -- and damage u.s. credibility. i want to ask our witnesses about u.s. credibility. july 8, president biden said the likelihood there is going to be taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely we now know he was advised this might happen. turns out it was completely untrue that statement on july 8th. later in july t president of the united states, president biden says i trust the capacity of the afghan military, better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting the war. president biden was wrong on
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that. we told our interpreters, our drivers, our friends, the people who had had our backs during this entire period of time that we would not abandon them. and that's exactly what we did. and in an interview, it's already been referred to, on network news, president biden says, and i quote, if there is american citizens left, we're gonna stay and get them all out. two days later, the president of the united states unequivocally said any american wants to come home, we'll get you home. we're going to stay and get them out. the president of the united states, our commander in chief, did exactly the opposite. now, i think you were right general milley when you advised that that our credibility would be damaged. our credibility has been gravely
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damaged, has it not, general milley? >> i think that our credibility with allies and partners around the world and with adversaries is being intensely reviewed by them to see which way this is going to go. and i think "damage" is one word that could be used, yes. >> no question this sends a disastrous message to china and russia. what message does it send to our nato allies and other allies around the world about not only our credibility but our national resolve. >> thank you, senator. what the world witnessed is united states military evacuating 124,000 people out of a contested environment in 17 days. >> well you -- you testified that that was a great accomplishment. our withdrawal and our evacuation.
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what about our credibility? >> as i engage my counterparts, i think our credibility remains solid. clearly, senator, there will be people who question things going forward. but i would say that, you know, we -- united states military is one that -- and united states of america, people place great trust and confidence in. and relationships are things that we have to work on continuously. and we understand that. we'll continue to do that. >> thank you, senator. >> thank you mr. chairman, i'm also very grateful to our service member who is commit sod much over the last 20 years. and i do want to thank president biden fur taking the tough but
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necessary step to end an endless war. something many of us have pushed for over the last decade. there is obviously still a lot to do, both overseas and here at home such as ensuring afghan refugees are treated respectfully and responsibly, both on dod basis such as ensuring they can be transitioned into their new lives in the united states. we also have the responsibility to our troops and to all americans to make sure that we have a complete picture of what we did, accomplished and happened over the last 20 years across all the administrations. we have to look back so that we can do better when we look forward. we have to put back into the hands of congress the right and responsibility to declare war
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what. started as a mission to defeat al qaeda in afghanistan and the perceived threat in iraq expanded to 20 years of war, multiple countries and hundreds of thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent. this is why i introduced the war powers reform resolution so congress can take back this responsibility for the benefit our o service members. congress must set clear and defined goals for the use of military force abroad and place a limit to lounge, where and against whom we can continue military action without a new authorization in order to finally put a stop to endless wars and prevent them in the future. second, there town a comprehensive, rigorous and objective audit on the war in its entirety. the united states spent more than $2 trillion and lost thousands of american lives and tens of thousands of afghan civilians. i do have questions, first general milley, in your testimony you said, you mentioned that there are many lessons to be learned. what did you mean by that statement? >> i think, senator, thank you. i think there is a series of strategic lessons to be learned. and i would echo some of the ones that senator reed mentioned early on. specific military lessons we
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have to take a hard look at. the united states military was tasked to train, man and equip the afghan army. the germans were required to train, man and equip the afghan police. as we built that army and all its components i think one error we may have made is made them too dependent on our technology and capabilities and didn't take in the cultural aspects and we mirror imaged essentially. i i this is a big lesson. we have do take a hard look at it. the result is when you pull contractors you pull troops.
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that is one of many factors. that's one lesson. the other is --. lot of other lessons. legitimacy of the government. corruption of the government. those sort of things are all out there as to why that government collapsed as rapidly as it could. but those are for others to sort out. there as specific set of military lessons we need to pull out within the military. >> i've also read -- i've read various opinion pieces. i know everyone here is deeply disturbed that the trained afghan military did not perform as expected. i'd like your thoughts on if they had performed as expected, would we have seen a prolonged civil war? what is your estimate of what the impact of them actually fighting would have been? >> my estimate is if they had, you know, performed as we expected them to perform, that the government would still be there. they would have probably lost significant chunks of territory. but kabul would be there and some of the major provincial capitals. but i defer that. probably get a better view of that from general mckenzie.
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>> general mckenzie? >> i think the afghan military fought we would have probably seen the kabul bowl, the approaches to kabul get into the winter still under the control of the governor of afghanistan. lot of the outlying provinces would not have been. i wouldn't note it wasn't so much the collapse of the afghan military as the collapse of the afghan government writ large. they happened together and they were completely linked together. so when you consider one i think you have to think about the other. >> additionally in retrospect, one of the areas of debate had been whether we should have started our evacuation earlier. and i recognize that the kabul government asked us not to start our evacuation early. can you speak to what you now know and whether it it would have been smarter or more effective in we had started evacuating personnel a year in advance or six months in advance or any time in advance? >> gonna -- >> i apologize. i didn't realize my time was expired.
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i'll submit that for the record. >> thank you senator gillibrand. senator fisher please. >> i too would like to thank our military men and women for their dedication to this country for the sacrifices they and their families make in the emmy theater of war and make every day for us. but our exit from afghanistan was a disaster. and the missteps that are already outlined had consequences that struck close to home. as an a nebraskan, corporal dagen paige was one of the 13 service members killed in action. global credibility with allies and partners would suffer and the narrative of abandoning the afghans would become widespread. would you agree that all of these things have happened over the last eight weeks are currently happening?
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>> i think in the main, yes senator, most of those are probably happening right now. >> and i hope that we see in the future military advise having more consideration by the administration on what will happen from what you and general mckenzie have said today. >> if i may, senator. i can tell you with 100% certainty the military voice was heard. and it was considered. >> it was considered but not followed. correct? >> we have -- presidents are elected for reasons. they make strategic decisions -- >> i would say this committee, general, has always stressed the
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commanders on the ground should be listened to. would you agree with that? >> i would. and i would tell you they were listened to. i think there is a difference between us having an opportunity to have a voice and -- and i think it is very important that the military has a voice. but i firmly believe in -- control of the military and i am required and military commanders are required to give their best advice but the decision makers are not required to follow that advice. >> i think it is also important to realize when we continue to see missteps by an administration that is costing lives. secretary austin. it's being reported right now that the biden administration reached out to russia about you saying russian bases in the central asian nations bordering
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afghanistan to the north for our strike assets to fly out of for the over the horizon counterterrorism missions. is that true? >> senator, this is an issue that i believe came up during a conversation that the president had with president putin. where president putin offered to offer, to provide assistance. >> but have you reached out to the russians asking specifically to use bases? >> general milley just recently had a conversation with his -- >> so the reports are true that have been coming out today?
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>> i can assure you that, you know, we are not seeking russia's permission to do anything. but i believe, and general milley can speak for himself, but i believe that he asked for clarification what that offer was. >> i have a number of questions which i'll need to get to with general mckenzie about over the horizon and the capabilities also we look to the future and what's available there. but i think what we're seeing about the ask to use russian bases. the biden administration has really left us in a terrible position, that we have to ask the russians to be able to protect the united states from terrorists. and we have to ask them to use their installations. >> i would just reemphasize senator, we're not asking the russians for anything. >> but you are negotiating trying to get these bases to be able to use their installation because afghanistan is a land-locked country. and when we have explanations
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from the military and they give examples for over the horizon and use countries like yemen and libya and somalia, that does not take into consideration that afghanistan is land locked and we have to depend on pakistan to give us air space to get there. thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you senator fischer. senator blumenthal please. >> thank you mr. chairman. i want to express my vote that this is hearing is just the beginning, first step of an in-depth analysis going not just to the last 10 weeks or even 10 months but 10 years and longer back so that we can match the courage of the men and women of america who have sacrificed during this 20 year war. i want to look forward to what is happening in afghanistan with respect to americans and our afghan allies. after our withdrawal it was left
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to an inunofficial network or coalition of veterans, ngos, some government officials. i was involved in an effort through chartered planes and airports outside of kabul to try to air lift on a makeshift ad hoc basis americans and afghan allies still there. they have targets on their back. their situation is increasingly urgent and desperate. and i have been frustrated by the lack of someone in charge. and lines of authorities. a point person. we need an evacuation czar, somebody who will provide a plan supervise action so that we can get out of afghanistan. the americans that remain there. and i will tell you, we don't have an estimate on the number because nobody is in charge right now. so let me ask you, secretary austin, who at the department of defense has overall
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responsibility with overseeing the effort to evacuate. >> as you know, first of all senator, thank you to you and your colleagues for all that you have done to continue to help get american citizens out of afghanistan. the state department following our departure of the military, the state department remained engaged and continued to work to get american citizens out. and as we've seen some 85 american citizens and 79 legal permanent residents have departed via the kabul airport. and so that work continues on.
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the state department set up a cell to continue this work and to develop a mechanism. that cell is headed up by boris bass. as you may recall, ambassador bass was one of the senior counselors on the ground in h kaia as we were conducting the investigation. i have a senior officer that is a part of that cell and we have reached out to our -- or ambassador bass has reached out to veterans groups and others who may have information to help skpuls continue to contact. so this work continues and reremained continuing to continuing that work unless we get out as many american citizens that are willing to to
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come out. >> and there was a point and you can call it the eye of the storm when the taliban had taken over the country but really wasn't in charge wen when we could have evacuated great many more americans and our afghan ally, the translators and others, guards, security officers. and i feel that the administration was on notice, in fact a group of us went to the white house in the spring and urged that there be a plan for evacuation. and unfortunately, the withdrawal prevented there from being anybody on the ground. and in the wake of that
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withdrawal there was a vacuum of leadership. and i would hope that there would be more effective action now to put somebody in charge and develop a plan because we know that there are many americans, whether it is green card holders or citizens or others still there. in connecticut we have a resettlement organization called iris restored to --. individuals who are still there more than 40 in kabul, i'm sure other organizations similarly know of such americans still there. >> thank you, senator. senator cotton, please. >> thank you. general milley, it's your testimony that you recommended 2,500 troops, approximately, stay in afghanistan? >> as i've said many times before this committee and other
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committees, i don't share my personal recommendations to the president, but i can tell you my personal opinion and assessment if that's what you want. >> yes, please. >> yes, my assessment was, back in the fall of 2020, and consistent throughout that we keep 3500 in order to move toward a negotiated, gated solution. >> did you ever present that assessment personally to president biden? >> i don't discuss exactly what my conversations are with the sitting president in the oval office, but i can tell you what my personal opinion is, and i'm always candid. >> general, do you share that assessment? >> i do share that assessment. >> did you ever share that personally with president biden? >> i'm not going to be able to discuss those personal discussions. >> did general milley report those opinions to president biden? >> you would have to ask him. i believe his opinions were well heard. >> they said no military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence in afghanistan. is that true?
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>> senator cotton, i believe that -- first of all, i know the president to be an honest and forthright man, and secondly -- >> it's a simple question, secretary austin. he said no senior military leader advised him to leave small troop presence behind. is that true or not? did these officers' and general milley's recommendations get to the president personally? >> their input was received by the president and considered by the president for sure. in terms of what they specifically recommended, senator, as they just said, they're not going to provide what they recommended in
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confidence. >> it's shocking to me. it sounds like maybe their best military advice was never presented personally to the president of the united states about such a highly consequential matter. let me move on to another recommendation they are reported to have made. general milley, joe biden has said that it was the unanimous -- the unanimous recommendation of the joint chiefs that we not maintain a military presence beyond august 31st. we've heard testimony to that effect today as well. when was that unanimous recommendation sought and presented to the president? >> you're talking about the 31 august? >> yes. >> so on 25 august, i was asked to make an assessment and provide the best military advice -- >> i'm sorry, my time is limited here. you gave me the answer i needed to hear. august 25th? >> correct. >> kabul fell on august 16th. you were not asked before august 25th? >> on august 25th, i was asked whether we should keep military forces beyond the 31st. >> secretary austin, was anybody asked before september 5th if we should keep troops at the kabul airport? >> the president asked us to
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make an assessment whether or not we should extend our presence beyond august 31st, and as general milley just said, that assessment was made. we tasked them to make that assessment on the 25th and he came back and provided his best military advice. >> secretary, kabul fell on august 15th. it was clear that we had thousands of americans, it was clear to members of this committee who were getting phone calls that we had thousands of americans in afghanistan behind taliban lines on august 15th, and it took 15 days to ask these general officers if we should extend our presence? i would expect the answer would be a little different if you
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asked 16 days out, not 5 days out. i want to move on to another matter. president biden's botched evacuation screwed things upcoming and going. we left behind thousands of afghans who served alongside of us who were vetted. we have thousands there who know nothing and cannot be properly vetted. you have female troops being assaulted. you have afghanistanees performing sex crimes. how do we ensure that thousands of afghans of whom we know nothing will not be a menace to our military base and the communities to which they are released? >> i'm aware of the allegations and i take the allegations very seriously. i can assure you that our commanders at our bases have what they need to be able to protect our troops and our
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families that work and live at those bases. and i'm in contact with general van hurt, the overall commander, who has responsibility for the operation on a routine basis. this is an area that he remains sided on. >> general milley, i can only conclude that your advice about staying in afghanistan was rejected. i'm shocked to learn that your advice wasn't sought until august 25th on staying past the august 31 deadline. i understand you're the principal military advisor, that you advise. you don't decide, the president decides. if all of this is true, general milley, why haven't you resigned? >> senator, as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. it's a political act if i'm resigning in protest. my job is to provide legal advice or best military advice
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to the president, and that's my legal requirement. that's what the law is. the president doesn't have to agree with that advice. he doesn't have to make those decisions just because we're generals. and it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. this country doesn't want generals figuring out what orders we're going to accept and do or not. that's not our job. the principal civilian control of the military is absolute. it's critical to this republic. my dad didn't get a choice to resign at iwojima, and those forces at abbey gate, they don't get a choice to resign. i'm not turning my back on them. they don't get to resign, so i'm not going to resign. if the orders are legal from the civilian authority, you intend to carry them out. >> thank you, senator cotton. senator hirono, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. do i understand you correctly that your personal recommendation was that troops remain in afghanistan, a certain number of them, beyond the august 31st deadline? >> no, senator. our recommendation -- this is the joint chiefs of staff. this is myself included, general mckenzie, major general donahue, the airborne second division.
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all of us were in a tank. general austin did not show up, there was no consensus. every one of us evaluated the conditions at the time on the 25th and we made a unanimous recommendation that we end the military mission and transition to a diplomatic mission. >> so while you testified that you may have had the personal recommendation, and i think in your case, general mckenzie, or it might have been general milley, by the time we were evacuating everyone, that was not a recommendation you personally held? >> absolutely not. at that point, no. on the 25th of august, we recommended that the mission end -- >> thank you for that clarification. so the evacuation was chaotic, and, yes, we are really grateful that our military performed magnificently in evacuating over 20,000 people. but secretary austin, secretary blinken acknowledged to my colleagues that no one believed the afghan military could collapse as rapidly as it did, especially in the first weeks of
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august. however, u.s. forces conducted at least a couple of airstrikes in the middle of july aimed at blunting the taliban's rapid advance. secretary austin, in july you were aware -- the d.o.d. was aware that the situation was deteriorating rapidly by july. why wasn't action taken to secure the kabul airport or retake bagram then?
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>> thank you, senator. you're right, the tempo had picked up significantly and the taliban continued to make advances. our entire chain of command, myself, the chairman, general mckenzie routinely engaged the afghan leadership to encourage them to solidify their defensive plans, to make sure that they were providing the right logistics to their troops, and, further stiffen their defenses, to no avail. to compound that, president ghani continued to make changes in the leadership of the military. this created further problems for the afghan security forces.
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>> mr. secretary, i don't mean to interrupt you, but my time is lapsing, so this gets to the overestimation that i think the overly optimistic assessment, because even as late as july, you're still encouraging the afghan special forces, you're expecting the ghani government to remain, but that was not the case. in december of 2019, the "washington post" reported that the u.s. military commanders privately expressed a lack of confidence that the afghan army and police could ever fend off, much less defeat the taliban, on their own. general milley, you noted that there was some specific military lessons to be learned.
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this is not the first time that i think we have relied upon overly optimistic assessments of conditions on the ground or a conflict of conditions. it certainly happened in vietnam. so my question to you is, what specific steps can we take to make sure that our assessments are not overly optimistic, so we can avoid the kind of reliance on assessments that are not accurate? >> i think in the case of working with other countries' armies, it's important to have advisors with those units so you can do a holistic assessment of things that are very difficult to measure. the morale factors, leadership, will. i think that's one key aspect. another part i think that's really important, and this is a lesson from vietnam and i think today, is don't americanize the war. we learned that in el salvador or in colombia where we did help other countries fight insurgencies, and we were quite effective, but it was their
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country, their army that bore the burden of all the fighting. we had very few advisors and it was quite effective. every country is different, every war is different, it has to be evaluated on their own merits, but those are some key points to think about. >> senator rounds, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. gentlemen, thank you for your willingness to appear before this committee to answer questions on the withdrawal from afghanistan. you continue to get key questions on what led to this decision. this is based on the jobs you asked to serve in. every single member of this committee, regardless of party, is grateful for the dedication and bravery exhibited by our service members, especially those who gave their last full measured devotion at abbey gate. general mckenzie, general miller told this committee that he recommended keeping 2500 troops in afghanistan, and this is back in january 2021, because he felt that afghan forces would not hold out long without our support.
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it seems to me there would have been a process to convey general miller's recommendation to the president. can you share the process and who conveyed general miller's recommendation, and was that recommendation delivered to both president trump at the time and also to president biden? >> there is a process for delivering recommendations from commanders in the field. i was part of that process. while i've been very clear that i won't give you my recommendation, i've given you my view which i think you can draw your own conclusions from, and my view was 2500 was an appropriate number to remain. if we went below that number, in fact, we would probably witness a collapse in the afghan government and in the afghan military.
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>> general mckenzie, i guess my question is, would it be fair for the committee to assume that both president trump and president biden received that specific information that had been assumed to be delivered by general miller? >> i believe it would be reasonable for the committee to assume that. >> and would general miller have been able to deliver that directly to the president or would somebody else have had to deliver that for him? >> i would leave it to general miller to express an opinion on that, but he and i both had the opportunity to be in executive session with the president, and i can't share anything beyond making that statement. >> thank you. secretary austin, this committee was briefed on the series of drills that went through the different types of actions or counteractions. the worst case scenario, an unfortunate collapse of the afghan government, was not something they factored in as a possibility. is it true we actually did tabletop exercises and we
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actually went through these drills and we never assumed there could be an immediate collapse of the afghan government? >> we planned for a range of possibilities. the entire collapse of the afghan government was clearly one of the things that if you look at the intel estimates and estimates that others had made, it could happen. in terms of intel planning, especially with respect to neo, we planned for a contested environment or an uncontested environment. the requirement to evacuate a moderate amount of people versus a large amount of people. so there was a range of possibilities that we addressed. >> but never with an immediate collapse of the government? >> we certainly did not plan against a collapse of the government in 11 days. >> thank you. general milley, i think senator
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cotton made a very good point with regard to the timing, the collapse of kabul, and the timing which you were asked your professional military opinion about the path forward. what seems to be a real challenge for many of us, it appears that in your professional opinion, it would have been prudent to use a different approach than a date certain with regard to a withdrawal from afghanistan. and if that is correct, and if there were other alternatives presented to the president, i'm certain that the frustration that you felt in not having your professional military advice followed closely by an incoming president, that you were then tasked in a very short period of time with handling what was a position in time for the people that were on the ground there to
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respond on an emergency basis. would it be fair to say that you changed from a long-term plan of gradual withdrawal based on conditions to one in which you had to make immediate changes based upon a date certain? >> senator, as a matter of professional advice, i would advise any leader, don't put date certains on end dates. make things conditions based. two presidents in a row put dates on it. i don't think that's -- my advice is don't put specific dates. make things conditions based. that is how i've been trained over many, many years. with respect to, though, to the 31st and the decision on the 25th, the risk to mission and the risk to force, and most
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importantly, the risk to the american citizens that are remaining, that was going to go up, not down, on the 1st of september. and the american citizens -- i know there's american citizens there, but they would have been at greater risk had we stayed past the 31st, in our professional opinion. >> thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator kaine, please. >> thank you, mr. chair. i informed a d.o.d. witness about ten days ago that we would expect an answer to the question of how many americans are still in afghanistan, and that we would not appreciate an answer that that was deferred to state. i'm going to ask the question during my second round of questions after lunch, and with the number of staff who are here in this room and the anteroom, we ought to be able to get an answer. if we can't, and it will suggest to the committee, i don't think
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you want to suggest this to the committee, that you don't want to be responsive to that question or that you don't talk to the state department or that the number of americans in afghanistan is something you're indifferent to. i don't think any of those are true, so i'll ask the question again after lunch and i hope we can get an answer. >> two compliments and a critical observation in inquiry. first, thanks to president biden for ending the u.s. combat mission in afghanistan after 20 years. it took guts and it was the right thing to do, and it should have been done earlier. a virginia service member whose wife is expecting said this to me recently. i'm so glad that my baby is not being born into a country at war. someone has to stay on permanent war footing in afghanistan and elsewhere. some will point out that u.s. troops are still deployed, still in harm's way, still carrying out limited military strikes around the world.
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but to the families of those who have been deployed over and over again into iraq and afghanistan over the course of the last 20 years, they are relieved that america is now turning the page and rejecting the notion that we should be a nation in permanent war. second, the effort to evacuate more than 120,000 people to safety under chaotic circumstances was remarkable. i visited about 80% of the afghans. i also visited fort lee, the first of the eight forts that processed afghans. the competent service on the american side and the deep gratitude among afghans made a deep impression on me. we should do all we can to make that transition to a safe life in america as productive as possible. my chief criticism and question is this. why did the afghan government collapse so quickly and why did the americans underestimate their capacity? to anyone who said we didn't see this coming, anyone on the committee knows that's wrong. an immediate collapse may not have been the best outcome, but we've heard for years that afghan strengths were way too optimistic. i believe the u.s. government had a good evacuation plan but it was premised on an afghan and american military government that showed resistance to the taliban.
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we did not explore the real possibility of an immediate collapse. we need to look at decision-making processes to understand how we were unrealistic and how to correct that going forward. but the most important part of the question is why a military we trained for 20 years at a cost of $80 billion collapse so quickly? i can think of three reasons after i put it on the table. i would like each of you to address the question, and if we can't, we can do it after we come back after lunch. first, it may show that our training was insufficient and it did not prepare the afghan military to defend the country on their own. that should have been our goal but we failed to accomplish it. if so, how must we change our thinking about training foreign militaries? second, the lightning collapse may not prove that the nsf were poor fighters but that they were demoralized. did they lack confidence in
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their own political or military leaders? were they demoralized by a 2020 peace agreement between the u.s. and the taliban that didn't even include the afghan government. mr. chairman, i would like to admit the peace agreement for the record. >> without objection. >> even the best fighting force may give in if they have no confidence in their leadership. third, the lightning collapse may show that we wanted things for afghans that afghan leadership did not want for themselves. we celebrated in gains in public health and women's education. we assumed afghans would fight to preserve those gains rather than let the taliban take over. in other words, we thought we knew what afghans wanted, what they feared and what they would fight for. was our belief and well intentioned incredibly naive? we can't get one-third of americans to take covid vaccine or accept the results of a presidential election. do we really believe we can get another culture to do what we wanted them to? so the main question, how did afghanistan collapse so quickly?
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>> senator ernst? >> gentlemen, thank you very much for being here today. unfortunately, this morning's hearing is required due to the haphazard withdrawal of u.s. forces, american citizens and many of our afghan partners. however, we do want to thank the men and women in uniform who assisted in the withdrawal to those who were gotten out and those who did give their service in the last few decades. the loss of service members and abandonment of american allies last month was a disgraceful humiliation that didn't have to happen. the president put a cheap victory, a withdrawal timeline timed to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on his calendar and executed his vision with little
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regard for american lives and the real threats we face. i do appreciate your open, your honest and expert opinion in communicating your opinion of what went wrong. i think americans are questioning their leadership from this president and this administration. president biden's blunders can't be erased, but the united states must now account for them through a revamped counterterrorism strategy that recognizes the newfound momentum of terrorists and new threats emanating from the middle east, in addition to rising challenges that we see coming from china and russia. pretty high stakes. secretary austin, i'd like to start with you. did president biden or any of his national security advisors express any military or
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diplomatic conditions for the american withdrawal from afghanistan beyond the looming date of 9/11? what were those military conditions or diplomatic conditions that were outlined to you? >> again, once the president went through a very deliberate decision-making process and made his decision to exit afghanistan, there were no additional conditions placed on it. >> can you tell me that he did take into consideration military or diplomatic conditions, and what were those conditions that he was weighing as he was making those decisions? >> sure. one of the things that all of us wanted to see happen was for this conflict to end with a diplomatic solution. and so one of the things that we
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certainly wanted to see was progress being made in the doha negotiations. he did not see any progress being made, and there was really not much of a bright future for that process. >> so general milley had stated earlier that his recommendation is always, as any military commander should do, should be conditions based. and we have to be able to evaluate whether those conditions are achievable, and if we can successfully complete those. it sounds like there were very little consideration given to diplomatic or military conditions. the diplomatic -- again, going to conditions based. the diplomatic end to it, i think, general milley, you also said that the military mission would end on the 31st and transition to a diplomatic mission. but i don't understand how we
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fulfill a diplomatic mission after august 31st when there are absolutely no diplomats on the ground in afghanistan. they're gone. they've been evacuated. unconditional? >> once he made the decision to withdraw, i mean, we -- that was a decision to leave. and we certainly wanted to make sure that we shaped conditions so that our embassy could maintain a presence there.
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protection of the embassy is important. >> you are extremely diplomatic in your answers. i can appreciate. that fwhut was not a conditions based withdrawal. and i think all three of you stated that you made your best opinion known to the president of the united states. he had no conditions other than to get our people out of afghanistan which he failed at because we still have americans as well as afghan partners in afghanistan. thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> thank you. senator king, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i'm finding this a very interesting hearing. it is really two hearings at once. one is on the question of should we leave afghanistan. and if it we shouldn't, what should be the nature of our troop commitment and our commitment to the country? the other is withdrawal which i thought was the subject of the here. the decision to leave afghanistan was made by president trump and his administration on february 29
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th, 2020 when we committed to leave by a date certain. there was a condition, provision if you will about negotiations between the taliban and the afghan government. there was even a date specified, march 10th, 2020, less than two weeks after the signing of the d o. doha agreement. clearly that, condition was not met. my question, is general milley, you're the only one that overlapped the two administrations, were there any efforts on behalf of the prior administration to enforce that condition of negotiation with the afghan government and the taliban? >> my question is did we attempt to enforce the conditions? did we inform the taliban, for example, we won't advocate for
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the release of 5,000 prurz unless you gun negotiationors something similar? >> i don't have knowledge of. that i know none of the conditions were met except the one don't attack coalition forces. of that condition was not met. >> the conditions were not met. you testified that the troop withdrawal and the release of the 5,000 taliban prisoners did proceed even though the conditions had not been met. is that correct? >> that is correct. >> and you testified you provide your military advice to president biden there should be a residual force left in afghanistan, did you provide the same advice to president trump when they were negotiating the doha agreement? >> again, i am not going to discuss precise advice. >> was it your military judge naent a residual. >> at that time, yes, that's why there with a series of meetings
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and memos and that is what they were. can you talk to secretary asper and he'll tell you the same thing. >> so your military judgement didn't change on january 20th? >> no. >> thank you. you were the only one to mention in this entour hearing. one of the key moments was the fleeing of president begany. en that is what really pulled the rug out from under the military and demoralized the entour government. that was really the -- not the beginning of the end, the end of the end. do you agree -- do you have some thoughts on that? >> i think when we consider what happened to the afghan military, you have to consider linked, completely linked to what happened to the afghan government. when your president flees on no notice and has a profoundly debilitating effect on everything else. events were far along on 15 august. i would note. that but i do believe it is possible they could have fallen
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to kabul had the president stayed. i think that really demoralized those remnants of afghans and there were still considerable afghan combat formations around kabul 15 august. i think it led to the taliban pushing in as fast as they wanted to go into the center of the city. this committee never had a meeting to withdraw from afghanistan in february of 2020. and it now appears that would have been a beneficial hearing. with he could have discussed all of these issues. but we were already on the path for withdrawal. and the withdrawal date was may 1st of 2021. biden extended that until the end of august. general milley in, questioning from senator cotton, you talked about your military advice about
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leaving on august 31st versus staying to try to help additional americans leave. was it the unanimous recommendation of the joint chiefs that the august 31st date should be observed and if so why was that the military advice? >> it was of the joint chiefs plus general mckenzie and general miller and -- not miller, admiral vasely and donahue. risk to force, mission and american citizens. on the first of september we were going to go to war with the taliban. of that there is no doubt. we were already in conflict with isis. so at that point in time, if we stayed past the 31st, which militarily is feasible but it would have required an additional commitment of significant amounts of forces probably 18th corps, 15, 25,000 troops that would have to clear kabul, 6,000 taliban that were already in kabul. that is what would have happened beginning on the 1st.
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and that would have resulted in significant casualties on the u.s. side and it would have placed american citizens that are still there at greater risk in my professional view and the view of all the other generals. so 25th we recommended that we transition to a diplomatic option beginning on the 31st. >> thank you, general. >> thank you, senator. >> general milley, you said the taliban have not lived up to the terms of the agreement. give me a rough date of when they first breached terms of the agreement. where you said they were not living up to the terms of the doha agreement. what was the first evidence that they were not living up to the terms of the agreement? >> the memo signed 29 february so really the fighting season of summer '20. >> okay. so more than a year ago? >> absolutely. >> okay. sure. >> i don't buy the idea that this president was bound by the decision made by prior president. this is not a treaty.
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it is an agreement where the taliban are not living up it to. this president, president biden could have come in, reasserted conditions and completely changed the time line. he's not bound by the president's prior agreements any more than he was bound by the president trump's decision to exit the iran deal or the paris climate accords. so in a to me is false narrative. this president moving forward with a failed construct has caused american lives or caused lives of north carolinians. we're working oen a case with an sib holder who had a sister worked for an ngo save the children and a father who is a -- in the afghan police force and as we were working to get through them, the taliban, taliban 2.0 is bit as ruthless as the one rereplaced in 2001. they sent pictures of the slit
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throats of people that we were working personally with. they killed this pregnant woman. they killed this police officer. and they are killing countless other people now that we should have got enout. gotten out. secretary austin, i think we owe a debt of gratitude for the people that got them out. this was a logistical success, but this is a strategic failure. general milley also say you agree with the idea of you personally agree that it didn't necessarily say you recommended to the president the 2500. i understood from general milley or general miller that there was a broader context within that recommendation. there were 2500 fighters, u.s. fighters. i understand almost 5,000 nto allies or 5,000 others that were willing to remain on the ground and as general miller said, keep the hand off the shoulder of the
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afghan national forces so we can have a counter to the taliban? is that correct? was bigger than that was it in the 7,000 range? >> you're correct. nato allies would have been onboard. >> and also cia presence throughout for bases for human intelligence to help us be more precise with the execution of whatever operations we had on the ground? >> that is correct, senator. >> now another -- you won't say that you advised the president. but is it fair to say that when general miller, he said that he advised all of you on his recommendations. it sounds like two of the three of you agreed with it. is it fair to say that recommendations were made and that in your best military advice it would have saved -- kept the situation stable in afghanistan? >> i stated consistently my position was if you go below 2500, you're going to look at a collapse of the afghan military. i didn't foresee it to be days. i thought it would take months.
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the rest of the ecosystem would go out too. >> did any of you embrace the notion or agree with the president's assessment that if he acted on that recommendation that he would ultimately have to send tens of thousands more u.s. service members to afghanistan? that it would ultimately delay the day where we're back to 100,000 or 50,000 u.s. forces in afghanistan? >> so, senator, these discussions were occurring in january, february, march. i want to make that point. >> but in your best military judgement, do you believe that the recommendations that general miller put forth was some 2500
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and i think general milley said maybe up to 3500. do you believe that would have sewn the seeds for ultimately having to send tens of thousands of u.s. service members back to afghanistan? as the president said publicly? >> senator, i believe there was a risk you would incur increasing attacks by the taliban. that was a risk withholding at 2500. that was a very clear risk. i'll tell you, senator, i'm humbled by my ability to deduce what the taliban would or would not do. i think it is hard to know. >> senator war snen is. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to begin by zooming out. it is not possible to understand our final months in afghanistan without viewing them in the context of the 20 years that led up to them.
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in 2015 the taliban conquered the first problem by 2001. by 2018, the afghan government controlled 54% of the 407 districts. and by may 2020, the afghan government controlled less than a third of afghan 407 districts. we poured money and support and air cover and afghan government continued to fail. they could not prop up a government that was losing ground and support to the taliban for years. secretary austin, i understand that you advise president biden to stay in afghanistan. but as you acknowledge, staying or withdrawing is a decision for the president alone. so i want to focus on what
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happened next. once president biden made the decision to have u.s. forces leave the country, who designed the evacuation? >> i would say in his calculus, this was not risk free. and the taliban as we said earlier in this hearing were committed to recommencing their operations against our forces. his assessment was that in order to sustain that and continue to do things that benefited the afghans, that would require at some point that he increase the presence, our presence there in afghanistan. so once he made the decision, then, of course, from a military
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perspective, in terms of the retro grade of the people and the equipment, that was -- that planning was done by central command and certainly principally by general miller. >> okay. >> very detailed planning. and then we came back and briefed the entire inner agency on the details of that plan. >> okay. so the military planned the evacuation. did president biden follow your advice on executing on the evacuation plan? >> he did. >> did president biden give you all the resources that you needed? >> from my view he did. >> did president biden ignore your advice on the evacuation at any point? >> no, senator, he did not. >> did he refuse any request for anything that you needed or asked for? >> no. >> so president followed the advice of his military advisers
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in planning and executing this withdrawal. as we already established. the seeds for our failure in afghanistan were planted many, many years ago. so let me ask you one more question, secretary austin. knowing what you know now, if we had stayed in afghanistan for another year would it have made a fundamental difference? >> again, it depends on what size you remaun in at and what your objectives are. there are a range of possibilities. but if you stay there at posture of 2500, certainly you would be in a fight with the taliban. >> well -- >> and you'd have to reinforce yourself. >> i appreciate your looking at it as a fighter. but i would also add one more year of propping up a corrupt government and an army that wouldn't fight on its own wouldn't give us a different outcome. and anyone who thinks
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differently is either fooling himself or trying to fool rest of us. i believe president biden had it exactly right withdrawing was long overdue. the withdrawal was conducted in accordance with the advice of his military advisers who planned and executed every step of this withdrawal. thank you, mr. chairman. madam chairman. >> you're recognized. >> thank you, madam chair. >> this committee rouses that your constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the president or resign, if you don't agree with this decision in policies like secretary mattis did. but i want to emphasize you do not have a duty constitutional or otherwise to cover for the commander in chief when he's not telling the truth to the american people w that, i have a few questions that i'd like you to keep short, concise answers to. on august 18th, in the vint to the american people, the
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president said that none of his military advisers told him that he should keep u.s. forces in afghanistan. general milley, that was a false statement by the president of the united states, was it not? >> that was a false statement? >> look, i don't have a lot of time. was that a false statement to the american snem. >> i'm not going to categorize the president of the united states. >> general mckenzie, is that a false statement? the president said none of his commanders said that he should keep troops in afghanistan. was that a false statement by the president of the united states? remember, you do not have a duty to cover for the president when he's not telling the truth. was that a false statement or not? >> i've given you my opinion on the matter. i've given you my judgement. >> think we all know it was a false statement. that is number one. the prealso said if there is an american citizen left behind in afghanistan, the military is
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going to stay until we get them out. general milley, was that statement -- did that statement turn out to be true or untrue by the president? >> i think that's what the untent. >> the statement was untrue. >> let me make another -- let me ask another question. general milley and mckenzies said al qaeda was gone from afghanistan. told the american people that. was that true or not true? was al qaeda gone from afghanistan in mid august? >> they were there many, many years. >> so it wasn't true. so it wasn't true. the president called this operation an extraordinary success. general miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion. general milley, was this
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afghanistan retro grade operation an extraordinary success? >> there are two operations, senator. just yes or no. i have a lot of questions. was this an extraordinary success? >> there is the retro grade and there is the neo which centcom was in charge of. the retro grade was executed and ended by mid july with a residual force to defend the embassy. the neo -- >> you and i discussed this. would you use the term extraordinary success for the -- for what took place in august in afghanistan? that's a non-combatant evacuation. it was a logistical success but a strategic failure. i think those are two different terms. >> look, i think -- here's the problem. i think the whole world knows this is the cover that economists magazine biden's debacle. that had stories in it, articles in it called the fiasco in afghanistan is a huge and
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unnecessary blow to america's standing. that is one article. joe bud enblames everybody else. that's another article. general, the problem here, these are not margin at misstatements by the president to the american people. these are dramatic obvious falsehoodses that go to the very heart of the foreign policy fiasco we have all witnessed. these are life and death deceptions that the president of the united states told the american people. i have one final question. i might leave it. it is a long one for the follow up. but here's the anger. i never seen my constituents more angry about a issue than this. it's the combination of everybody knowing that this is a debacle. and, yet, people defending it as a extraordinary success. and here's the biggest. no accountability. no accountability. you, gentlemen, have spent your
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lives, and i completely respect that troops in combat, you've been in combat, you've had troops under your command killed in action. the you have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical and the american people respect that. up and down the chain. there are instances commanders get relieved. up and down the chain. we see it. the mccain incident, the fitzgerald incident, the aev incident with the marine corps. all relieved of duty. but on this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability. no responsibility from anybody. i will ask this final question of all of you. >> senator sullivan -- >> madam, chair -- >> could you submit your question. >> i will. >> we're trying to keep to a
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five minute questioning rounds. can you ask the question in your second round if you'd like. thank you. >> senator peters? >> thank you, madam chair. thank you to each and every one of you for your service or country. i want to return to some of the comments made by senator waren in looking over the last 20 years f ever we're going to have a strategic assessment of what happened in afghanistan, it's posh in any strategic assessment is not just to look at the present but look at the past and future and all three of the elements as we're making that kind of assessment. we have to have a hard nose add sesment of that. general milley, you mention that. strategic decisions have consequences. and this are a lot of lessons to be learned over 20 years.
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i sat at this table for many years. i had an opportunity to travel to afghanistan and a couple of occasions. and when we ever asked our mult leaders, the situation in afghanistan, we often herd well it's a stalemate right now. fwhut year coming up is going to be different. this year will be different. i heard that year after year after year. this year is going to be different. there is a commentator that said, and secretary austin, i want you to comment on. this he said we didn't have a 20-year war in afghanistan. we had 20, one huff year wars in afghanistan. how would you respond to that? >> i would certainly say that is something to think about. you heard me say in my opening comments, we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. the did we have the right strategy? did we have too many strategies? if you're recooking or reshaping
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that strategy every year, one year at a time, then that has consequences. i think that is something we have to look a we also have to look at the impact, the effect of a corruption that was in the environment. weak leadership, changes in lead ership and a number of factors. >> i want to build on that. for example, when you commanded nato ground forces in afghanistan eight years ago, you called 2013 a critical year for the afghan security forces because it was the first time they had taken responsibility for their security across the country. secretary austin, you offered similar assessmentes in 2015 and 2016 during testimony before this committee. you emphasize there were 326,000 forces and they were ready to leave security operations. i'll just say, from experience when i was in afghanistan, the
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input i got from our commanders was this year is going to be different. we'll be able to do things better. but i got a completely different assessment when i went to the mess hall and ate with soldiers and marines and the folks on the ground that said i don't trust these folks that we're with. i don't know if they're going to fight. they don't even show up. they get the paycheck but they don't show up. now there may have been instanss where they performed and i know you lited some of those. did we just become fixated on some tactical performance from our forces, their forces? and forget to measure the afghan security forces actual institutional health as a fighting force that could sustain a fight even though they're in a incredibly weak economy and whole host of complicated cultural issues? >> clearly we have to draw deep on. senator, we had a number of
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advisors down to, you know, fairly low levels. he was began to lift the numbers of advisors that we had there and scale back on the people we had interfacing with the afghan onz a dauly basis, we began to lose that finger tip feel. and so our ability to assess some degree of certainty continued to erode the smaller that we got. >> my sense is that is what we were hearing for years. this is an endemic problem for decades, o every a decade. so hopefully we'll have the opportunity to do that. that is my final question. what do we actually do to learn from the conclusion of these military operations? particularly from a strategic assessment point of view when it comes to end of conflict transition. we'll have other operations like this even in great power
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competition. >> we're going to take a hard look at ourselves in terms of what we did over the last 20 years. what worked? what didn't work? we're going to learn from the lessons. and make sure that we incorporate that into our planning and our strategic assessment going forward. >> thank you. >> thank you very much. senator cramer please? >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank all three of you for your service and for being here. god bless the men and women in are your command. general mckenzie, is it true that u.s. forces had the isis case sell under surveillance prior to august 26th and could have struck them before the deadly terrorist attacks at kabul but were not given the authority to strike? >> i noticed the president was quick to take a victory lap after the first strike and push this tough guy image he's so famous for. he once threatened to have union
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bosses beat me up. he said just do it. we'll strike them. of course, this was after he said of the isis-k leaders, we'll hunt you down. he talks tough. going to go get them. i also notice he's been equally sue lent. taking no responsibility for the strike on innocent civilians including children that was in part caused by in my view is insecure need to appear tough. what a really worry about is the air cruise who actually were pressured into pulling the trigger that terrible day. secretary, as you know, the north carolina air national guard operates around the world. and i know what kind of pressure those aircrews are under. i'm worried that whoever was operating the aircraft involved in this -- in the tragic 29th august strike was set up to fail
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by anned amgs that wanted a political victory more than they wanted an american victory. have you reached out to the aircrew to make sure they understand it's not they're fault that there are seven dead children? >> i have not. as you probably know, i have directed a three star review of this incident. general mckenzie did an initial investigation. i you directed a three star review. i won't make any comments. >> you know, there certainly seems to be a lot of indication that's a terrorist vent was likely if not imminent leading up to isis k bombing on the 26th. the were our military members still -- why were our military members exposed after that threat was known, general mckenzie? >> the purpose of the force at the airfield was to bring american citizens and afghans at risk out. you had to have the gates open and process people. you're right, there were a lot
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of threats. and we worked very hard to minimize the threats. you true to balance this. this is example of where that occurred. it wasn't through any lack of attention trying to find the cellors looking hard for them. we did find a number and we did, in account fa, which i'll be happy to talk about in closed session, we did enable -- stop the attacks from occurring. >> speaking of that, i want to drill down. the taliban is controlling the checkpoints around the airport. you indicated general mckenzie that u.s. at that time had -- you called it a prague natick relationship of necessity with the taliban? did he would share any information with the taliban about the isis-k threat? if so, how did they -- did the taliban respond to it? in other words, how did they get in? >> it is possible they let them in on purpose. the body of intelligence indicates that is not what happened. so what did it happen?
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that is a terrible tragic event. a lot of other events didn't happen because the taliban fortses were there. the i defer to no one in my disdain for the taliban and lack of trust for them. i believe they actually prevented other attacks from occurring. i think there are other events where people did not get through. >> the reality is they're patriotic americans, all over the country. and certainly in north carolina they're really upset. i mean they're genuinely pissed off. there is a lot of rationalizing and no one is saying anything other than it was an extraordinary vent. it wasn't perfect. out of the 124,000 people
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brought to the united states, dwoent know a lot about a bunch of them. yet we know a bufrnl of people that were not brought back to the united states. and they're upset. they're really, really upset. i know you know that. i hope that -- i think you're seeing the reflection of that in their elected representatives. and we'll get to that this afternoon. we'll drill down a little more. i look forward to that closed session as well, general mckenzie to learn more about the august 26th. >> thank you, senator cramer. >> thank you all. i appreciate your service to our country. i never doubted your unwaivering commitment to defend our country and our constitution. i'm old enough to understand, i know veet no, ma'am very well. i was in line to go there. i had an injury in my plane and that didn't happen. so anyway, i don't -- i just can't figure out -- i can't explain to the younger generation how do we get into this and never get out? we didn't learn from vietnam. that was a horrible exit, i
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remember that vividly. this was even worse than that as far as my recall. and i don't know what lessons we're taking from this right now. but i look back at an open ended uamf. if we would have had an omf and had a time certain and specific goal, do any of you that i could have made the difference? do you think, i mean, hindsight being 20/20, what did we learn from the mistakes? how do we prevent them again? we thought from vietnam we learned not go in and try to change a nation. here we are trading partners with vietnam. i can't comprehend any of it. so anybody that wants to help me and general milley, i know you have a great knowledge of history and how we got into situations. >> as i said in my opening
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comment -- >> i'm sore yishgs i was conducting a meeting i wasn't able to be here. >> i mention, you know, there has been four presidents, 20 commanders on the ground, seven or eight chairman, the joint chiefs, you know, dozens of secretaries of defense, et cetera. outcomes like this are not determined in the last fuf days, 20 days or last year for that matter. outcomes in a war like this, an outcome that is a strategic failure, the enemy is in charge in kabul. there is no way else to describe. that that outcome has a cumulative infect of 20 years, not 20 days. there is a huge amount of strategic operational tactical lessons that need to be learned from this. some of them in the military sphere, one of them, for example, is the mirror imaging of the building of the afghan national army based on american
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doctrine, techniques and procedures. that made a military that may, i'm going to wait for an evaluation, but may have been overly dependent upon us, our presence, contractors, and higher tech stimdz in order to fight the counter insurgency war. that is one area that needs to be explored. how did we miss the collapse of an army and government that big that, fast and only 11 days? that need to be pulled apart. interruption, the pair it issic nature of the police forces, ten or 20 that i wrote down a week or two ago that need to be looked at. looked at in depth over time. >> we know where the president, the former president of afghanistan is today? and how much money he took with him? do we have any idea? >> secretary austin? do you have any idea?
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>> i think he may be in a uae, senator. that is the last report i got n terms of any money that he may have taken with him, i have no knowledge of any amounts of money. >> there is no way we can trace that to the banking institutions? no way to have any insight on that? it has to be exchanges going back and forth. i'm sure he's not keeping it in the bank of afghanistan. >> yeah. >> defense doesn't have any insight into that. >> maybe treasury might. i'm look forg some answers that i may are not ansable. everyone is asked a question of how do we prevent this from happening again? why don't we see if there is a person that i spoke to on special ops that were there. i was there in 2006 and 2011. every time it got worse. it didn't get better.
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this couldn't have been a surprise. they were never going to step to the plate. it couldn't abe surprise they were not going to fight. we knew that. and especially ops people said it gets worse every day. it doesn't get better. every mission is worse. we used to drive from kabul to bagram. after i went back the second time, you couldn't do. that everything got bad. i have to tell this one. drives me absolutely insane to see the television at night and see the taliban and all them wearing our uniforms, wearing our night vision, using everything we have, our m wraps and everything else we left there. i can't get an accounting of how much equipment we really did leave. i know how many aircraft we left and i know how many basically mraps and the different things. but no the to plan better to take that equipment out was
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unbelievable. >> all the equipment we had, that we used was retro grade bid general miller as a part of the drawdown. thousands of tons of equipment and whatever hue end equipment that we this that we were using. the equipment that the afghan security force has as a taliban took over is equipment that you see. of course, all of the helicopters that were left on the airfield, i asked general mckenzie to demilitarize those. they couldn't ever be used again. and so we took -- we retrograded the equipment. >> we hope that god would bless america to have the intelligence to not repeat what we continually seen doesn't work.
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with all the expertise and knowledge you gain from this please, please help us from ever repeating what we've done. >> thank you, senator. >> senator scott? >>. >> thank you, chairman. want to thank you for being here. general milley, i hope that you'll address the context of the calls with regard to the chun he's and whether -- you know, what is alleged as you would warn them if there was going to be an attack. also, address whether there was any intelligence indicating the chinese were nervous. one thing that surprised me is the president has blamed everyone else but himself. he is the president of the united states. he has at built to take the zigsz. he can take all the advice he wants. he blamed previous
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administrations, he blamed the military of which i think is disingenuous. the people of the white house and even blamed our own military. secretary austin, you said you were ready. you said you exceeded expectations. you said our credibility is solid. and you said the president followed your advice on the evacuation. first question is, do you still believe that the most effective withdrawal strategy involved extracting the military, bandening our military ins sta lagss and reducing our use of force and ability to use force before we got our civilians out? >> thanks, senator. the decision was to end our military operations and draw down all of our forces and retro grade all of the equipment and
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that was accomplished. also, a key part of the plan was to maintain an embassy in kabul. and maintain that embassy would allow us to continue to engage the government to continue to support the forces. the plan was to leave a diplomat uk presence there. and in conjunction with that plan, we were going to leave a small military force there to secure the embassy. so that was the plan, senator. >> but you didn't address the issue that you make all the -- it was your plan. you acknowledged it what was your plan. and your plan said you would do all these things before we got our civilians out. i mean when in the history of the country have with had the military say and have a plan that we will take our military out first before we take our
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civilians? i can't imagine that. >> when you say civilians, are you talking about -- >> american citizens. >> american citizens, yeah. >> the american citizens would come out once a non-combatant evacuation is declared. and until that point, it typically we don't evacuate all the citizens in the country. >> but we didn't here. there is american citizens still there. >> and we continue to remain engaged and work to get those citizens out, senator. >> yeah, but -- why would you propose a plan that didn't get all american citizens out? i just can't imagine ever in the history of this country our u.s. military would propose to leave a country without our citizens coming out. have we ever done that before? >> all of the american citizens wouldn't leave, senator, unless there was a non-combatant
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evacuation. the plan was to leave the embassy there. to address the need of our mesh citizens and engage with the government. so that was part of the plan. not, again, the plan was never to evacuate the american citizens and leave the embassy. >> did it bother you when he said that? clearly it was not truthful. >> senator, you know, you heard me say several times that we're going to work as hard as we can for as long as we can to get every american citizen out that wants to come out. >> i'm running out of time. when we have next round, i want to understand what decisions would you make differently today to save those 13 lives?
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thank you very much. >> senator, if i can comment on your first opening comment if i may. >> go ahead, sir. >> yeah. i am happy to lay out every detail in all the intel to you as an individual, to any other member or to a committee or anyone else you want at your convenience. happy to do it. >> thank you. >> thank you. thank you, senator scott. senator duckworth. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i shaur my colleagues' concerns about the rapid collapse of the afghan national security forces. and the afghan government and the failure of our untell jens. we need some answers. after investing two decades, nearly two trillion dollars and most importantly the lives of almost 2500 of american troops, we must conduct a thorough review of the involvement since september 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. for the sake of current and
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future generation of war fighters, we must capture the hard lessons from afghanistan to ensure these lessons are not forgotten or worse repeated on a future battlefield. this is our moral responsibility as a nation. gentlemen, all three of you have been involved in the war in afghanistan multiple times and multiple different capacities throughout your careers. secretary austin, was the situation on the ground in afghanistan over the last few months influenced by previous decisions made over the course of several years? >> i absolutely believe that, senator. foremost among those decisions is the doha agreement. i think that is severely impacted the morale of the military. is it to have a lessons lernt exercise that only looks at the events in afghanistan in the last couple months or should any review look at the whole 20
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years since september 11 ng? >> i think you have to look at the entour 20 years. senator, i think there is great lessons learned that we're going to take away once we do that. but, yeah, i believe you have to look at the entour time span. >> the war in afghanistan was shaped by four different administrations and 11 different congresses. no party should be looking to score cheap partisan political points off a multidecade nation building failure bipartisan in the making. there are lessons to be learned. that is why on thursday i'm introducing to afghanistan war study commission my bill would establish a bipartisan commission to examine every aspect of the war including the political and strategic decision that's transformed a mission
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into vast nation building campaign. they must gud the development of let forms as the 9/11 commissions were informed in law making efforts in the year after the publication. secretary austin, would you agree with me that such an independent long term study could serve as an effective compliment effort to the more targeted lessons learned reviews that dod always con zmukts particularly in shedding light on how congress and civilian leaders from multiple government agencies can do a better job in defining the scope of military missions and actually enforcing legal limitations on the use of force? >> i you would. the my view is it needs to be an inner agency to. this. >> my family and i were in cambodia until the very end. i'm an american. i was born in thailand.
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my father worked for the united nations. and to answer my colleagues question, my father chose to stay as long as possible to help the cambodian people as long as possible. and he left after american troops left. the american ambassador stayed behind. after the last military transport left, my father was on the last military transport to leave cambodia and the ambassador had to travel over land. yes, we leave americans behind fwhut is tied to neo operations and thu is planned. that's why it's so important that we have an independent investigation. maybe the failure here was that we didn't have a neo plan in place and didn't activate it before all of our troops left. if that's the case with, he into toad learn that. so i would ask for my colleagues to consider this independent commission. we put somebody in charge who is not in a decision making capacity during the 20 years. make it nonpartisan. and let's get the lessons learned so we don't make the same mistauz over and over
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again. our troops deserve better. the familiar lives the 2500 american troops who laid down their lives to protect and defend this constitution who follow the lawful order of all of knows presidents, they deserve better. than partisan fights. the we need to get real answers. thank you. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator duckworth. now let me recognize senator blackhorn. >> thank you, mr. chairman. gentlemen, we thank you all for being here with us today. as you heard from all of us, the american people, tennesseans are wanting some answers. they deserve to hear your testimony. and i think it is unacceptable that this is the first time that i'm hearing from you in any form despite attempts at outreach by both me and my staff, save a few short all senator phone calls that we have had. i want to emphasize all of us here, every one of us answered to the american people.
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and they transparency and information regarding this administration's botched and disgraceful withdrawal. tennesseans are really angry. and as you know, general milley, tennessee is home to the 101st airborne, one of the most deployed divisions in the u.s. military. we're also home to the sword that were on the ground last on the ground extracting them in dafrpger in kabul. the tennessee national guard units deployed to afghanistan at a high operational tempo and as well as providing vital logistical services such as refueling. we're home to more than 400,000 veterans, many of whom have lasting physical and psychological wounds from the time they spent in service. tennesseans are heart broken
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over the loss of our own staff sergeants. patriotic american who represented the best of all of us. in the august 26th so you side bombing at karzai international airport, he made the ultimate sacrifice. so how did we get here? and how did we get to what has been a complete letdown to most tennesseans? and i got a few questions. these are yes or no questions. so quick answers are appreciated. general milley, with were there options for keeping american troops in afghanistan rather than the unconditional chaotic withdrawal? >> yes. >> you presented options in those options were declined? >> there were options sprented and debated. >> yes or no? >> decision was made. >> yes nor is fine. did you at any point create options for keeping bagram open
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beyond july 2nd? >> yes. >> did you provide options for keeping bagram open directly to the president? >> yes. >> had bagram stayed oep, would our support to the afghan air force been more effective in your view? >> i'm sorry, i didn't catch the last part. >> if bag bram stayed open, would our support to the afghan air force have been more effective in your view? yes or no? >> frankly, i'm not sure on that one. most of the afghan air force is a different base specifically at each place. >> president biden keeps calling it an extraordinary success. we discussed some of this today. is leaving americans behind an extraordinary success in your view? secretary austin? >> we're not leaving americans behind -- >> yes or no is fun. >> is the killing of 13 american servicemen and wum while trying
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to secure a chaotic evacuation of the president ease own making an extraordinary success? >> the loss of any sieve you willian louvre is always tragic. >> is the fact that we failed to evacuate most of our afghan partners an extraordinary success or the fact that we have afghans bringing child brides, people who are hardly vetted, is that an extraordinary success? >> again, these are issues that we continue to work on. >> let me move on. per article two of the constitution, the president may require the opinion in wrug of the principle oufr in each of the executive departments. did the president ever request written recommendations related to the withdrawal of the afghan forces? yes or no? secretary austin? general milley. yes or no. >> i provided input as part of
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a -- >> in written form? >> policy process that was very well -- and then deliverly run. >> general milley? any written form? >> yes. >> would you make those available to us? >> make it available to the committee upon request and new orleans in accordance with the appropriate clarifications. >> general mckenzie? >> yes. >> each of you have committed to make those available when you went through your confirmation processes. we'll come back to you for those. general milley, yes or no to this. did you talk to bob woodward or robert costa for their book "peril." >> woodward, yes, costa no. >> did you talk for alone can i fix it? >> yes. >> did you talk to michael bender for his book, "is frankly we did win this story: the inside story of how trump lost." >> yes. >> and were you accurately
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represented in these books? >> i haven't read any of the books. i don't know. i have seen press reporting of it. i haven't read the books. >> let's have you read the books and let us know if you're accurately portrayed. >> happy to do that. >> senator blackburn. >> i yield my time. >> thank you. >> senator rosen, please. >> thank you, chairman, ranking member for holding to day's very important hearing. critical part of this committee's oversight responsibilities and it's an opportunity for the american people to get answers about our withdrawal from afghanistan and how we plan to counter taker ust threats in the future. i also want to sincerely thank the brave men and women who served our country in afghanistan. many who may the ultimate sacrifice and of course, their families as well. secretary austin, general milley and general mckenzie, i appreciate you all being here to address lingering concerns we
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have about the last two decades of war. generally and the past two months in particular, and you're all men of honor and integrity who served our country nobly and i so look forward to your candid responses to my questions. resps to my question, even if they require admitting that in some cases serious mistakes were made. like all senate offices, as the taliban approached kabul and eventually took over the city and the country, my team and i worked to help vulnerable individuals evacuate. these were people who in many cases have the state department's approval to leave afghanistan for the u.s. or third party country, but due to crowds, taliban checkpoints, or legitimate fear of being killed along the way they just could not physically get to a gate to present their paperwork, no matter how many times they tried or how long they waited. my office work work with sent com and afghanistan force to grab these people from the
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crowds so they could present their paperwork and flee to safety, but again, these efforts were to no avail. as these individuals continued to wait for help that may never come, i remain frustrated that the u.s. did not set up a perimeter around kabul, or at the very least create a safe corridor for the s-1 visa holders to get to the airport for their families, potential silence seekers who were attempting to escape a near certain death. so continued support, general milley, i appreciate the state department now taking the lead on evacuations, but like our military, the state department no longer has any presence in the ground in afghanistan. so i'd like to ask you, sir, does the u.s. military's recent experience facilitating the evacuation from kabul give you the confidence that the taliban will be honest brokers in working with our diplomats to help vulnerable afghan nationals leave the country?
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>> i think that what we've seen so far since the 31st is some americans have gotten out through diplomatic means, and they have reached safety through either overland routes or through aircraft. i don't know all the details, but i can't imagine that didn't happen without taliban facilitation. >> well, we can get back to afghanistan nationals helping them leave the country as well. those siv holders and others who supported us. but secretary austin, the administration has said they'll utilize every tool available to hold the taliban accountable if they fail to meet their commitments to provide safe passage for anyone who wants to leave the country. certainly we know there are economic levers. but can you elaborate on what the military tools are? and could there be a shared interest in targeting isis-k? >> in terms of military tools, senator, as you know, we have
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the ability to offer a range of options depending on what the president's objectives are. so we can do most anything that's required of us because we have substantial resources. but in terms of our cooperation, with the taliban against to counter isis-k, i won't venture to make any comments on that. i would just say that we have coordinated some things that have very narrow in scope with them to get our people out, as you know, and to continue to further evacuate americans citizens, but i i don't think it's right to make assumptions to broader and bigger things from that coordination. they are still the taliban. >> thank you. i'd just like to in the few
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seconds have i left, and we can take these second round or off the record, future counterterrorism operations. we have to reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and our assets in the region. of course, as we move to an over-the-horizon scenario. so secretary austin, general mckenzie, and we'll take these in the second round. like the answer to what is the plan for an encounter counterterrorism strategy that is going to be able to address and counter influence of the violent extremist organizations in afghanistan. thank you. >> thank you, senator rosen. senator hawley, please. thank you, let me sum wrap-up we are based on an extraordinary hearing. number one, the president of the united states lied to the american people about the advice that you gave to him about the military judgment that prow you've provide for him. i think you have all testified to that effect repeatedly. the state department and maybe
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the white house appeared to push back the evacuation to such a time it became a catastrophe, apparently against your advice. i'd like to learn more about that. and third, we still don't have a plan the pentagon planned for the potential collapse of the security forces or the collapse of the afghanistan government, despite there being quite a loft warning for really frankly years that the afghan forces were ill-equipped, ill-trained and quite frankly not up to the job. i don't understand any of that. i'd like to explore some of those things in this round and the next. i know this is an administration talking point. i've heard it out of the mouth of the press secretary and others. we are not leaving americans behind that was your quote a minute ago. with all due respect, sir, you have left, past tense, americans behind. we have no presence any longer in afghanistan. there were hundreds of americans, and not just americans generally, civilians you left behind. against the president's explicit
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commitment not to leave until all american citizens were out to safety that is not what happened. now we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out this country, coming to me, come this committee to get that help. they can't get that help. so please don't tell me we're not leaving americans behind. you left them behind. joe biden left them behind. and frankly, it was a disgrace. >> senator, thanks for your help and congress to help get american citizens and afghans out of the country. but as you've seen, we've continued to facilitate. >> well, actually, i didn't ask you a question. you seem to want to address the question. isn't it true that you left americans behind on august 31st? >> there are americans that -- there were americans that were still in afghanistan. >> yes. >> and still are. >> correct. >> we continue to work to try to get those americans out. >> that's a yes. let's not repeat, please, the frankly falsehood that we didn't leave americans behind. let me ask you this.
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general, secretary austin, you said you've alluded to several times the fact that the military was ready. you say this in your prepared marks. you say by late april planners had crafted a number of scenarios you. were waiting for the state department to make a decision about evacuation. nbc news is reporting this morning that the military wanted to begin evacuations earlier, but the state department and the white house intervened, and on may 8th said no, we're delaying the evacuations of our civilians. can you help us get to the truth here? was it your judgment and opinion that the evacuation of civilians should have begun before the middle of august? >> we provided our input to the state department. again, it is the call of the state department. >> i understand that. but mr. secretary, i'm asking for what your judgment was. i'm asking specifically about your testimony that in april, you developed evacuation scenarios, and this is reported by multiple sources in the news.
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by late april, was it your opinion that the evacuations of civilians should begin? should begin earlier than they did? >> we provided input to try to get out as many afghans who have helped us along the way as early as possible. but, again, the state department has made its decisions based on the fact that even president ghani had engaged them and said we were very concerned about the mass exodus of civilians from the country. >> general milley, let me direct to you. did you ever advice in the agency process that the rapid withdrawal timeline that the white house, the pentagon signed off on, general milley proposed basically getting us to zero by the middle of july that that would negatively impact our effort to get out any civilians? if we had drawn down to zero by
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july, if we then had a evacuation order, we'd be in a lot of trouble. did you ever advice to that effect during the interagency process? did you warn of that possibility of drawing down so quickly before a civilian evacuation was under way? >> the -- yeah, but it's more complicated than that. the drawdown of the forces under miller, those guys are advisers. they're not the neo kind of guys. the neo troops are marine expeditionary unit, special purpose mag-tev and 82nd airborne. that's what you need to do the neo. those are the plans the secretary is referring that we developed early on. and there are specific triggers required and the state department calls the time of the neo. secretary, in fact on the 12th of august started pushing for forces and orders. and on the 14th, ambassador wilson called the neo. should that have been called earlier? i think that's an open question
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that needs further exploration based on series of meetings. but the april piece in the drawdown of the advisers, that's a separate and distinct task. those 2500 advisers weren't the guys bringing out the american citizens any way. those were the advisers to the afghan security forces. there were concerns that we raised throughout the interagency that when those advisers, if the advisers were to stay, then there is a possibility that the afghan security forces with hang in there. we all knew when we pulled the advisers out, when we pulled the money out, that at some point in the future, most said it was in the fall, the afghan security forces were going to fracture and the government would collapse. the speed at which that happens in august is a different animal. the advisers are already gone by mid-july. there is still a government. there is still an afghan army, and the assumption was that it would remain and the mission was to keep the embassy open, secure the embassy, transition that off
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to contractors, and then all the military would be out and it would be a diplomatic mission and there would be money and over the horizon fund. none of that hatched because it collapsed very quickly. secretary austin and others throughout the government executed, implemented the neo plan for which there was contingencies that were built there was a plan for a rapid collapse, and that was the neo plan that general mckenzie had come up with, and that's what was executed. that's why those 6,000 troops could deploy as rapidly as they did. that's why all those aircraft showed up. that wasn't done without planning that was done with planning and from an operational and tactical standpoint, that was a success. strategically, strategically, the war is lost. the enemy is in kabul. so you have a strategic failure while you simultaneously have an operational and tactical success by the storages ground. so i think we're conflating some things that we need to separate
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in this after-action review process so we clearly understand what has happened. i'm sorry for taking all that time, but i thought it was necessary. >> thank you, senator hawley. senator kelly, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to each of the 8,000 americans who served over the past 20 years. i also commend our support of one of the largest airlifts in our country's history we will never forget the achievements of the men and women who worked 14/7 in kabul, managed impossible conditions on the ground, and above all, those who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting innocent civilians. 124,000 people are safe today because of american troops and diplomats.
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still, after decades of conflict, 2500 american soldiers killed, and bills invested in security cooperation, the american people deserve to know why the afghan government and security forces collapsed in a matter of days, and how there was a failure to prepare for this scenario and ensure that our people were out of the country before it fell. and i think we've established here that the withdrawal and evacuation did not account for real world conditions and that the intelligence was flawed. the united states wields incredible power as a global lead. >> and our accountability must match our influence. for our own national security, and for each of those who served in afghanistan during our longest war, we must understand what happened. but also look forward to ensure that our posture allows us to provide for our national
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security and prevent afghanistan's use as a base for terroristic activity. so i want to transition and look forward and not ask you questions that you've already answered. general mckenzie, america's armed forces have been on the front lines fighting terrorists for the past 20 years. during this time, al qaeda and other terrorist organizations have been degraded, while our military presence in afghanistan has ended, our commitment to fighting terrorism has not. with our withdrawal complete, the afghan government collapsed and the taliban seeking to fill the power vacuum left behind, how is central commandment postured to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining strength in the region? >> senator, probably the details of this would be best left to the classified session which we will have later this afternoon. but i will tell you that i have
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today headquarters that has the ability to look into afghanistan, albeit limited, and we have the ability to fuse the different disciplines in intelligence to look particularly at isis-k and al qaeda. we're still refining that, the best practices on that. but we do have a way forward. i've told this committee before it is very hard to do this. it is not impossible to do this. >> well, i'm looking forward to seeing those details in the closed hearing. are you confident, confident that we can deny organizations like al qaeda and isis the ability to use afghanistan as a launch pad for terroristic activity? >> i think that's yet to be seen. we're still seeing how al qaeda and isis are configuring themselves against the taliban. we're still seeing whether the taliban is going to do. so i would not say i'm confident that that's going to be on the ground yet we could get to that point, but i do not yet have that level of confidence. >> and you might have to share this in the closed hearing, but
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do you have the resources necessary to accomplish this, even as our national security pivots towards great power or near peer threats like china and russia that are seeking to expand their influence and compete with our military? >> senator, i'm in a constant dialogue with the requirements at centcom, and i'll give you more details in the closed session. >> thank you. i know you can't go into much detail about the analysis that let to the august 28th drone strike in kabul in this open setting, but i would like to note my serious concerns and give you the opportunity to make any comment on how the american people can know that the military will be able to adequately assess targets before conducting future strikes an operations, even as we have even fewer local intelligence and intelligence resources to leverage. >> senator, again, the matter is under investigation. but what i can tell you broadly, to restate some things i said
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earlier, i am responsible for that. it happened in my area of responsibility. so i am the responsible officer for that strike. moreover, i was under no pressure and no one in my chain of command below me was under pressure to they cantake that strike. we acted based on the intelligence read we saw on the ground. well acted several times on intelligence we saw and were successful in other occasions in preventing attacks. this time tragically we were wrong. and you're right to know as we go forward and our ability to create what we call the ecosystem that allows you to see what's going on the ground and put all that together is going get a lot harder to do that, particularly in places like afghanistan. but i can share more with you later. >> thank you. senator tuberville. >> thank you. you're part of the most powerful military in the world. i'll ask all three this question. i know the way you're going answer this. is there any enemy that could defeat the strongest force in the world the united states military? i know all you having are r going to say. no secretary austin, since your confirmation in january have,
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you been denied any resources with regard to afghanistan? i think i heard you say earlier you got everything you needed? >> that's correct, senator. >> thank you. on august 18th, you were asked why the u.s. wouldn't rescue americans who couldn't reach the airport. you responded, quote, i don't have the ability to go out and extend operations many currently in kabul, end quote. we saw the germans, the french, the british rescue citizens in kabul. but from this administration, which commands the world's most lethal fighting force, we saw nothing but blame, weakness, and our american citizens were left to fend for themselves. our fighting men and women have the courage, training and discipline to defeat the enny any time, anywhere, and there are people wondering why the heck would we let our allies get their people and we didn't get ours? i want to thank all the hundred thousands of veterans and their families who sacrificed for the past 20 years. and i truly believe our soldiers didn't fail us. a lot of our leadership did. secretary austin, before
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president biden even took office, you thought we needed to leave afghanistan. on january 19th, you told my colleague senator sheehan, quote, i think this conflict needs to come to an end, and we need to see an agreement reached in accordance with what the president-elect wants to see. quote, you testified general milley and general miller had adequate resources to secure afghanistan at a troop level 2500. but you told senator hawley you wanted to, quote, assess the situation to make recommendations to the president, end quote. i know how you're going to answer this. did you give advice to the president on withdrawal from afghanistan without conditions? or is that the direction you got from him? >> again, my recommendations were a part of a very deliberate process where we presented a range of options for the president. and if i could, senator, i'd like to go back to the first comment that you made about the
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question that i answered for a reporter who asked why don't you go out and establish cordons and create safe passageways for our people just to move into the airport. at that point early on in our deployment, we only had -- we had less than 4,000, or about 4,000 troops to secure and defend the airport. and our troop presence continued to grow as we flowed people in. we used a number of innovative approaches to go out and pick up and facilitate the entry of american citizens into the airport as the situation continued to develop. but just wanted to give you a little context for that answer. >> well, thank you. and, you know, we're all talking about did president biden know all. this you know, my question about withdrawal. basically, there are two option. either the president was given bad military advice or he gave
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his military the terrible decision and direction to surrender afghanistan without condition. i'll have some more here in a few minutes. i just want to make a couple of statements. the american people, especially people i represent, they're disgusted by how this u.s. surrender happened in afghanistan. and i know you've heard that yourselves, all three of you. americans, veterans are pissed off that their service was squandered. america's allies are in disbelief, but america's enemy are delighted. the taliban are euphoric at the job that happened with our military given the orders to retreat. president biden abandoned our allies who fought alongside us for 20 years. this administration left american citizens behind enemy lines. we left $85 billion worth of equipment that the american taxpayers paid for. and this administration created
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a sanctuary for terrorists to plot against the united states for years and years to come. it's just absolutely amazing that we did this. so i'll end it there. i know these guys need probably to take a break. but we'll see you after the break. thank you, mr. chairman. i yield my time. >> thank you very much. senator tuberville. we have completed the first round. and as i indicated, we will break at 1:00 for lunch. so we'll begin the second round. secretary austin, you said in response to senator warren that if we stayed past august 31st, we would certainly be back at war with the taliban and you'd have to reinforce yourself. do i interpret your testimony to mean staying at 2500 past the 31st was not sustainable at an acceptable level of risk to american personnel and that we would be seeing today casualties which could be accumulating at an unacceptable rate?
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>> yes, a lot left out of the conversation is that we stayed past that date that was agreed on early on, that the taliban would begin to attack us our forces here. we'd have to make some decisions on how to reinforce our forces so we could continue to operate, and that would include quite possibly increasing the force there. >> now in the doha agreement, president trump agreed to leave certain conditions on may 1st. those conditions were never really achieved, challenged by the trump administration. would you consider that an abdication or a surrender, that agreement? >> i certainly believe that the conditions were preset, and
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again, we met -- lived up to all the things we were obliged to do. we didn't attack them. and we drew down our forces. but the taliban, the only thing that they lived up to was that they didn't attack us. >> and we saw a great deal of difficulty in meeting the deadline, which was august 31. would it appear to you that a may 1 deadline as president trump imagined would have caused more complications in terms of getting our equipment out, getting our personnel out, identifying americans who were eligible to leave, since you would be doing it in a much shorter time frame? >> i don't think that would have been -- that would have been feasible to do that in an orderly fashion, mr. chairman. >> thank you very much. general milley, regardless of whether the taliban had met the conditions required under doha,
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weren't you already on a trajectory to go to zero forces, as i said, by may 1st, as required by the agreement when the president took over, so that you actually would have accelerated the process of withdrawal and complicated it more, similar to my question to the secretary? >> yes, you're actually given an order to go to zero by january order to go zero by 15 january which was changed to go 1500 by january and then take it down by 1 may by the administration. >> thank you. general milley, your prepared testimony indicates the biden administration through the national security council administration conducted a rigorous interagency review of the situation in afghanistan in february, march, and april, in which the views of senior military leadership were all given serious consideration by the administration. you also testified that you received an order in november of 2020 just referred to withdraw all forces from afghanistan by january 15, 2021.
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was that november order similarly informed by a rigorous interagency review? >> no. >> so that was basically -- >> secretary esper submitted his recommendations in a written format on the 9th, the day he was relieved. 48 hours later we received a written order to go to zero by 15 january. >> i think -- general mckenzie, again, your advice with regard to maintaining 2,500 troops has been reiterated repeatedly. but you also recommended in the fall of 2020, 4,000 troops; is that correct? >> sir, that is correct. i recommended that in the fall of 2020, when we were having deliberations, i recommended that we hold at that level. >> and that was rejected by the trump administration? >> yes, sir, it was.
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>> and there was no recriminations against you or anyone else, that was the president of the united states making a decision based on his view of the world? >> insofar as i know, that's correct, sir. >> thank you very much. and again, adhering to the five-minute rule, i will cede back eight seconds. >> thank you, mr. chairman. one good way to judge any president's decision is whether it's made the american people safer. generals, i ask all three of you, you have both noted that the taliban has not severed its relationship with al qaeda. president biden stated on july the 8th that al qaeda is gone from afghanistan. i would ask you, is al qaeda
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gone from afghanistan? generals? >> senator, i think there are remnants of al qaeda still in afghanistan. >> does anyone believe that al qaeda is gone from afghanistan? president biden stated at the united nations recently that this nation is no longer at war. is it your personal view that al qaeda is no longer at war with us? i'll start at the right, general. >> i believe al qaeda is in afghanistan. i believe they have aspirations to reconstitute. and if they develop the capability, i believe that they have aspirations to strike. it's too early in the process right now, senator, to determine the capability. but i do believe -- >> do you believe that the personal view that was stated that al qaeda is no longer at war with us right now? okay.
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>> i think al qaeda is at war with the united states, still. it never has not. >> thank you. does the withdrawal from afghanistan increase or decrease the likelihood of an al qaeda or isis attack on the u.s. homeland? >> are you asking me, senator? >> sure. >> my view is that it makes it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, find, fix functions. we can strike from almost anywhere in the world but the find/fix function is more difficult. we can still do it. it's not impossible, but it will make it more difficult. >> we entrusted security to the taliban but they failed to prevent the isis-k suicide bomber on august the 26th. we don't really even know if they wanted to prevent it. now we're in the same situation, trusting the taliban to prevent attacks.
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the senator from missouri brought up and talked again about the fact, what is the -- what is the situation right now. and i think we don't really, after this several hours, have an answer to that. i do want to bring something in the record that i don't think has been put in the record. and that is the conditions under which the previous president, after making the statement about the taliban, not only did the previous president have conditions and the conditions included having a presence, a military presence, but they also had four other things that were stated that were conditions, one, to prevent al qaeda and the terrorists from threatening the united states from afghanistan, secondly, to make statements and commandments to its members
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against the threatening united states -- u.s. threatening the united states, thirdly deny residents visas and passports to those threatening the united states' allies, and fourthly, begin negotiations with afghan -- with the afghan government. those were conditions that would -- were made at that time. and this has been stated several times. it's my opinion and the opinion of many who have testified at this hearing that there were no conditions. i believe that is the case. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator inhofe. senator shaheen, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. secretary austin, i'm going to go back to my question earlier about the records that special immigrant visa applicants really need in order to qualify for those visas that -- and there's not been a real -- a good
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process through dod to ensure that they get those records. is that something that the department is looking at and would you be willing to work with this committee or others to see if we could set up a process that would ensure that those folks who worked with our men and women actually have the documentation they need to show that? i know that one of the challenges is that many of those records have been destroyed. but i would hope there's some way that we can ensure those people are able to get the documentation they need to come to this country. >> senator, let me first say that i absolutely agree with you that the process is onerous and that we need to do something to make it easier for those people that have helped us to prove that they have in fact worked with us before. one of my departments in defense is working to try to find ways to -- to propose ways to
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truncate the process or come up with alternative means to demonstrate that they have worked with us in the past. and to answer your question, we would absolutely welcome working with the committee on this. >> thank you. i assume we should contact your office to find who the appropriate contact person would be? >> we'll contact your office and let you know who he is, senator. >> okay. general milley and general mckenzie, it's long been publicly reported that the pakistani intelligence services have maintained a close and continuing relationship with the taliban. do we expect that relationship to become more complicated now that the taliban is in power? are we concerned about pakistan's nuclear weapons and the potential that terrorist
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groups might be able to get access to those weapons? can you talk a little bit about how you see the relationship with pakistan and the taliban playing out and the challenges that presents for the united states? i'll start -- which one of you would like to answer that? >> go ahead, frank. i'll follow you. >> senator, some of this we can talk a little bit more detail in the closed session. >> okay. >> i can tell you i believe pakistan's relationship with the taliban is going to become significantly more complicated as a result of the u.s. withdrawal from afghanistan. and in fact they're going to see pressure moving into pakistan from afghanistan in ways that they've been able to deflect before because of the pressure that we and our allies had on them. i think that's a significant problem pakistan is going to face. i would like to talk about their special weapons perhaps in the closed session. as has been noted by several people, in order to get to
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afghanistan, you have to fly over pakistan unless you come from the north. and that's a subject of continuing deliberations with pakistan. and i can shed a little more light on that going forward. but they've actually, over the last 20 years, we've been able to use what we call the air boulevard to go in over western pakistan. that's become something that's vital to us, as well as certain landlines of communication. and we'll be working with the pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what that relationship is going to look like in the future. i can, again, talk a little more in the closed session. >> thank you. general milley, did you want to add to that? >> i've had several conversations over the years and also recently with pakistanis and there's no question in my mind the relationship between pakistan and the taliban is going to become increasingly complex. there is a whole series of issues there that have national security interests for the united states that are best handled in a different session. >> thank you. can you -- and secretary austin, can you talk about what we're doing to work with our european counterparts who, based on conversations that i've had with some of the civilians from our nato allies, there was some
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frustration about the communication that led to the withdrawal and the evacuation. are we working to rebuild those relationships? do you see that frustration reflected in the military relationships that you had? >> i don't, senator. and, you know, i understand that there will be concerns. but as i engage my counterparts, they're all very willing to work with us. and, you know, i don't want to sound pollyanna-ish on this, but they have been very, very thankful for the fact that we helped them get their people out. and we helped them get thousands of evacuees out that had worked for them because of what we did. so i think, as i look at the major players, that there is still a strong sense of -- a strong willingness to work with
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us. and relationships are things we have to continue to work at. >> thank you very much. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator shaheen. before i recognize senator wicker, at the conclusion of senator wicker's questioning, we will adjourn, as i said, the 1:00 adjournment, a little early, a couple of minutes. then we'll promptly return at 1:30. senator wicker, please. >> thank you, mr. chairman. general mckenzie, let me ask you, as i understand it, one of our primary missions in afghanistan was training the afghan armed forces. we also equipped them with approximately $83 billion in military equipment. but we always provided them extensive support in the form of intelligence and surveillance, air support, logistics, including contract aircraft maintenance and special operation advisers.
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general mckenzie, were the afghan armed forces ever trained to fight the taliban without u.s. support of any kind? >> so, senator, some elements of the afghan military could fight very well without our support. some of the elite commando units. obviously we know from the example we saw in august that other elements were unable to do that. and in fact, as we began to withdraw our support during the withdrawal operation, we began to see the effects of that. we shifted to an over-the-horizon model for aviation maintenance. that is difficult -- >> it really is difficult to do. >> -- in a technically literal literate population. it is harder to do in afghanistan. we were having some small success with that. actually the afghan air force continued to fly strikes up to well into august. but they were nonetheless on a general negative attrition. >> what percentage would you term as elite? >> oh, less than 5%. >> okay. so really for 95%, it was
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unrealistic for us to expect them to be able to fight alone at that point in july and august of this year? >> the combination of the obvious withdrawal of the u.s., which had a profound psychological effect, because i think in the mind of the soldier, you know, the taliban and the afghan military, they have the same dna. so it comes down to the fighting heart of the man on the ground. and i think that they drew -- that the taliban were heartened by what they saw happen at doha and what followed and our eventual decision to get out by a certain date. i think the afghans were very weakened by that morally and spiritually. >> thank you. let me rush in to try goat another question in. secretary austin, the reports in "the new york times" are that you warned the president all the way back in march that there could be dire outcomes which the afghan military flooded -- folded in an aggressive advance by the taliban and that you drew comparisons between that and our
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experience in iraq where a disaster unfolded and we were required to go back in. according to the same article, you warned the president, we've seen this movie before. i know you don't want to tell us what advice you give to the president. was that your feeling, and did you make known the comparison with iraq and did you feel we had seen this movie before? >> thanks, senator. again, you're right, i won't -- i'll keep my conversations, my recommendations to the president confidential. but i would say that as we worked our way through the process here, we laid out all potential consequences that could result from any course of action that we took. and we were clear-eyed about that. and so, you know, there were inputs coming -- >> with regard to iraq. that's my question, mr. secretary.
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>> well, certainly, then we get back to the specific conversation i would have had. but it's clear that i have a history with iraq. it's clear that i've learned, you know, there are lessons to be learned from iraq. and, you know, i would certainly -- >> was it your feeling that we had seen this movie before? >> well, there are certainly some of the same kind of things that could transpire as we looked to transition. >> okay. speaking of things transpiring, one was that we had to go back into iraq. secretary austin, does the department of defense have plans in place to redeploy u.s. combat troops to afghanistan in the event that our intelligence estimates prove true and our homeland security is in fact threatened? >> currently, the president's decision, senator, as you know, is that, you know, we've left iraq -- excuse me, afghanistan. and so we've not been tasked to
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construct any plans to go back into afghanistan. >> so there are no such plans in place? >> no. >> general milley, of the conditions that were required of the taliban in the agreement, only one was met; is that correct? >> that's correct. the condition was -- the one that was met was the most important one, which was don't attack us or the coalition forces. and they didn't. >> and so president trump made a recommendation -- gave an order that we leave on 15 january. >> correct. >> and the advice came back from the military strongly that that was not a good idea based on that advice, the president rescinded that order; is that correct? >> that's correct. >> and none of those conditions that president trump based on his decision on had been met in
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2021 when president biden made the same -- in fact the same decision; is that correct? >> those conditions were never met, that's correct. >> thank you very much. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator wicker. at this point the committee will stand in recess until 1:30. thank you very much.
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