Skip to main content

tv   Defense Secretary Joint Chiefs Chair Others Testify on Afghanistan...  CSPAN  October 5, 2021 2:10am-5:41am EDT

2:10 am
democracy. c-span 3 takes you live to capitol hill for a hearing on the u.s. withdrawal from afghanistan and lessons learned on the 20-year conflict. members of the senate armed services committee are getting ready to hear testimony from the defense secretary, lloyd austin, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, general mark milley and general mackenzie, head of u.s. central command. you're watching coverage live on
2:11 am
c-span 3. >> let me call the hearing to order. first in an administrative action. since a quorum is now present, i ask a committee to consider a
2:12 am
list of 2,900 pending military nominations. included in this list is u.s. air force for reappoint to general. and all his nomination before the committee. is there motion to report this list of 2,993 pending military nominations of the senate? is there a second? all in favor please say aye. the motion carries, thank you. good morning. the committee meet 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 investment the afghanistan state has failed and the taliban has taken control. we need to understand why and how. as part of this hearing we'll seek to understand the factors that contributed to the
2:13 am
taliban's rapid take over 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 struteaming competition with china and russia, we must capture the last few decades. much of this hearing will focus on our time months in afghanistan. i think it is equally important, however, this committee takes a step back and examines the broader two decade mission that shaped the outcome we face today. our withdrawal this summer and the events surrounding 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 and our doha agreements by
2:14 am
president trump. and we owe the american people an honest accounting. i hope this hearing will be frank in searching so that future generations of americans will not repeat our mistakes. witnesses today is secretary lloyd austin, secretary of defense general mark milley chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and chairman mackenzie. 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 and perilous conditions, a remarkable accomplishment. we especially honor the brave american service men and women killed and wounded while
2:15 am
selflessly protecting those seeking safety. so how did we get here? there are countless decisions and factors that could be pointed to, but i would hoy light a few that clearly paved the way. early in the war we did achieve our original counter terrorism objective of significantly degrading al-qaeda and afghanistan. over time, however, that mission morphed into convoluted counter insurgency and nation building. while a u.s. presence in afghanistan drew down significantly over the last few years the lack of a defined strategy continued to erode the mission. one of the clearest inflection points was the ill-fated decision to go to war in iraq. just as we began to achieve momentum in afghanistan, bush's invasion of iraq drew critical resources, focus and troops away from the afghan theater. our best opportunity in afghanistan was squandered and we were unable to get back on track. throughout the war we were also unsuccessful in dealing with pakistan support of the taliban
2:16 am
even as american diplomats sat down with pakistani leaders and our forces cooperated on counter terrorism missions, the taliban enjoyed sanctuary in pakistan with time and space to regroup. more recently it can be tied to the agreement which then president 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 on the dohar agreement used the final year of the trump administration to begin its faithful march toward kabul. despite the efforts both democrat and republican we want
2:17 am
to help build an afghan government capable of leading its people and an afghan security force capable of defeating the taliban. afghan soldiers fought bravely in the face of massive casualties but faced with the loss of american military support and hamstring by cooperation within they were unable to stand on their own against taliban forces. secretary austin, general milley, general mackenzie, you've each led troops in afghanistan, commanded at the level and advised on our afghan strategy. you've played significant roles throughout this war and i hope you're forthcoming in your answers today. to begin i'd ask you provide an accounting of intelligence and other key assessments that factor into your judgment about the viability of the afghan government and afghan forces and how those trends changed over time. i'd like to know aany lessons you've identified frd how effectively we can work by and with more partners in the
2:18 am
future. additionally i'd like to know what factors you attribute to the taliban's success and whether we missed indicators and warnings of their imminent take over. finally while wave transiitioned our military from afghanistan after largely achieving our counter terrorism objectives, we must continue to ensure afghanistan can never again be used as a base for terrorist groups to conduct operations against the united states and our allies. we must remain vigilant about these threats and ensure we establish an effective counter terrorism architecture moving forward. to that end i'd ask you update the committee on your plans for over the horizon counter terrorism operation. the united states faces new and evolving threats around the world. to overcome them we must first understand what went wrong in our mission and we owe it to the american people. i want to thank you you again for being there this morning and i look forward to your testimony. for the benefit of my colleagues
2:19 am
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 there will be classified briefings immediately following the open session and sb 217 the office of senate security. again, before i turn to the ranking member i want to note the rules of of the committee state that witness testimony should be sent to the committee 48 hours in advance and it is customary at the very latest testimony arrives the afternoon before the hearing. i am disappointed that the statements of a witness were not sent to the committee until late last evening giving senators and staff very little time to review. i hope when these witnesses appear again before this committee they'll allow -- or they'll follow the committee rules and customs. now let me turn to ranking member.
2:20 am
>> thank you, mr. chairman. let's make sure everyone understands 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 wait until late last night to 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 harms way for one reason, to keep their fellow americans safe. they represent our very best. i especially want to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families. an august 26th we were reminded so painfully what we ask our
2:21 am
troops and their families to do. 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. 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 commanders in charge, we saw it coming. so we are here today to understand what happened and why that advice was ignored. general mackenzie, you said in
2:22 am
february before the president decided to fully withdraw from afghanistan, quote, you have to take a condition based approach. you expressed your concern about, quote, actions that the taliban had taken up until this point, meaning that the taliban was not constraining al-qaeda as it had agreed to do under the conditions of the agreement it sienled with the trump administration, that it was a condition-based statement and position. 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
2:23 am
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 the ability of the afghan military to hold the ground that they are now on without the support that they have been used 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 rethink 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
2:24 am
advisers didn't listen to his combat commander, 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 desperately ripped into the departing flights. the taliban is in a stronger position than they had been in 9/11. the terrorist affghani members are now in senior government positions. we went from where we will never negotiate with terrorists to we must negotiate with terrorists. you know, the years 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
2:25 am
effort. three days later the biden administration said it was -- in fact, it killed ten afghan civilians including seven children. and then president biden concluded the draw down by doing the unthinkable. he left the americans behind. 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 this -- these threats is something called over the horizon counter terrorism and that we do these types of operations elsewhere in the world.
2:26 am
that's misleading at best and dishonest at worst. 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 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 would 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
2:27 am
decidedly. we'll have another hearing with expert witnesses thursday, two days from now. we understand the under-secretary of defense has agreed to testify in that hearing. so today is really just a start. so in conclusion i would just like to say this. president biden made a strategic decision to leave afghanistan which resulted in the deaths of 13 u.s. service members the deaths of millions of women and children and left 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.
2:28 am
secretary washington and chairman milley, the doha agreement -- excuse me. we want to give you an opportunity to have opening statements as i've been reminded. so general austin, you're recognized. >> chairman reed, ranking member, members of this committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss our recent drawden in evacuation operations in afghanistan. i'm pleased to be joined by generals milly 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. 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 draw down and the evacuation. over the course of our nation's
2:29 am
longest war 2,461 of our fellow americans made the ultimate sacrifice along with 20,000 who still bear the wounds of war, some of which cannot be seen on the outside. and we can discuss and debate the decisions, the policies and the turning points since april of this year when the president made clear his intent to end american involvement in this war. and we can debate 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 service members who along with their families served and sacrificed to ensure their 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 los
2:30 am
11 of their teammates at the abbey gate in kabul on the 26th of august. and i've never been more humbled and inspire. 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 bit about that issue of time. the reason our troops were able to get there so quickly because we planned for just such a contingency. we began thinking about the possibilities of a noncan combatant evacuation as far back as this spring. indeed 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. two weeks later i began positioning forces in the region to include three infantry battalions. and we ran a tabletop exercise around a noncom battant
2:31 am
evacuation scenario. we wanted to be ready and we were. in fact, by the time the state department called for a neo, leading elements of the 24th expedition unit were already on the ground in kabul. and before that weekend was out another 3,000 or so ground troops had arrived including elements of the 82nd airborne. but let's be clear, those first two days were difficult. we all watched with alarm the images of the 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.
2:32 am
we planned to execute between 70 and 80,000 -- we planned to evacuate between 70 and 80,000 people. they evacuated more than 124,000. we planned to move between five and nine thousand people more day. on average they moved slightly between more than 7,000 per day. on military aircraft alone we flew more than 387 sorties, averaging nearly 23 per day. at the height of this operation, an aircraft was taking off every 45 minutes. and not a single sortie was missed for maintenance, fuel or logistical problems. it was the largest air lift conducted in the 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 and intermediate
2:33 am
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 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. service members 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. not combatant evacuations remaining amongst the most challenging military operations, even in the best of circumstances. and the circumstances in august were anything but ideal.
2:34 am
extreme heat. land locked country. no government. highly volatile situation on the ground and credit and lethal active terrorist threat. in the span of just two days from the 13th to the 15th of auguste we went from working alongside a democratically elected partner government to coordinated warily with a long-time enemy. we operated in a deeply dangerous environment. and i 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 to an international airport overnight. and how to rapidly screen, process and manifest large numbers of people. nothing like this has ever been done before. and no other military in the world could have pulled it off. and i think that is crucial. now, i know that members of this committee will have questions on
2:35 am
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 evacuation sooner, and why didn't we stay longer to get more people out. let me take each in turn. retaining bagram would have put as many as 5,000 u.s. troops in harm's way o just to operate and defend it. and would have contributed little to the mission we assigned which is to protect and defend the embassy some 30 miles away. the distance from kabul also rendered bagram of little value in the evacuation. staying at bagram meant staying at war in afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do. >> over the horizon --. outside the country.
2:36 am
just days ago we conducted one such strike in syria, eliminating a senior al qaeda figure. over the horizon populations are difficult but absolutely 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 very collapse of the afghan government that we all wanted to do avoid. and that moving too late would put our people and 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 that's where the missions end, my judgment remains that extending beyond the end of august would have greatly em
2:37 am
parld our people and our mission. staying longer would have made it even more dangerous for our people and would not have significantly changed the number of evacuees we could get out. as we consider these tactile issues today we must also ask equally tough questions about the wider war itself. and pauds to 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
2:38 am
that we and our partners trained simply melted away in many cases without firing a shot took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise. we need to consider some uncomfortable truths, that we 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 beganny and his commandersghani and his commanders. and that the do ha 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
2:39 am
skills to use them. and 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 am personally reckoning with all of that. but i hope as i said at the outset that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride in the way that our people fought. they prevented another 9/11. they showed extraordinary courage and compassion. in the wars 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 service members and civilians face a new mission. helping these afghan evacuees move on to new lives and new places. and they are performing that one magnificently as well. i spent time with some of up at joint base maguire diction lake
2:40 am
hurst i appreciate the support that this committee continues to provide them and their families.
2:41 am
while 20,698 of us were wounded in action. and countless others of us suffer the invisible wounds of war. there is no doubt in my mind that our efforts prevents an attack on the homeland from afghanistan which is 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. --. ten years later when ambassador cal zad signed the agreement on 29 february, 2020.
2:42 am
united states had 12,600 u.s. troops with 8,000 nato and 10,500 contractors. this has been a ten year draw down, not a 19 month or 19 day neo. urn the doha agreement the u.s. would begin to withdraw its forces contingent upon the taliban meeting certain conditions which would lead to 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, any other condition under the doha agreement. and perhaps most importantly for u.s. national security, the taliban has never renounced al
2:43 am
qaeda or broke its affiliation with them. we the united states adhered to every condition. and the fall of 2020 my analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal without meeting specific and necessary conditions risks losing the substantial gains made in afghanistan, damaging u.s. worldwide credibility and could precipitate a general collapse of ansf and the afghan government resulting in 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 defense esper submitted a memorandum on 9 november recommending to maintain u.s. forces at a level between about 2500 and 4,500 in
2:44 am
afghanistan until conditions were met for further reduction. two days later. on 11, november, 2020. i received an unclassified signed order directing united states military to withdrawal 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. 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 3500 u.s. troops, 5400 nato troops and 6300 contractors in afghanistan with a specified task of train, advice and assist. along with a small contingent of counterterrorism forces. the strategic situation at
2:45 am
inauguration was stalemate. the biden administration conducted a rigorous review of the situation in afghanistan in february, march and april. during this process, the views of the joint chiefs of staff all of us, were all given serious consideration by the administration. we provided a broad range of options. and our assessment of their potential outcomes, the cost, benefit, risk of force and risk of 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
2:46 am
kabul until the department of state could --. and assist turkey to maintain karzai airport. this is clear, it is obvious the war in afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted. with the taliban now in power in kabul. although the neo was unpresented as the largest air evacuation in history, evacuating 124,000 people, it came an incredible kous. 11 marines, one soldier and a navy coreman. those 13 gave their lives so people they never met will have an opportunity to live in freedom. and we have to remember the taliban was and remains a terrorist organization and still have not broken ties with al qaeda. i have no illusions who we are dealing with. it remains to be seen whether or
2:47 am
not the taliban can consolidate power or if the country will further fraction into civil war. but we must continue to protect the united states of america and its people from terrorist attacks coming from afghanistan. a reconstituted al qaeda or isis with aspirations to attack the united states is a very real possibility. and those conditions to include activity in ungoverned spaces could present themselves in the next 12-36 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, 7 chairman, 10 sent come 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
2:48 am
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. 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
2:49 am
my loyalty to this nation, the 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 will not turn my back on the fallen. with respect to the chinese calls, i routinely communicated with my counterpart general lee with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. i am specifically directed to communicate with the chinese by department of defense guidance, 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 crises and 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
2:50 am
and after with secretary esper and acting secretary miller's staffs and the interagency. the specific purpose of the october and january calls were generated by concerning intelligence which caused us to believe the chinese 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 deescalate. my message again was consistent. stay calm, steady and deescalate. we are not going to attack you. at secretary of defense esper's direction i made a call to general lee on 30 october.
2:51 am
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 deputy assistant secretary of defense for asia pacific policy helped coordinate my call which was then 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 lee, i personally informed both secretary of state pompeo and white house chief of staff meadows about the call among other topics. soon after i attend ad meeting with acting secretary miller where i briefed him. later that day speaker pelosi called about the president's ability to launch nuclear
2:52 am
weapons. i assured her this is by a very specific and deliberate process. she was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. i explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority, and he doesn't launch them alone and that i am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the united states. there are processes, protocols and procedures in place and i repeatedly assured her that there is no chance of an illegal, unauthorized or accidental launch. by presidential directive and secretary of defense directive, 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 strachtry
2:53 am
role as the president's primary military advisor.atutory role as the president's primary military advisor. after the call i convened a short meeting in my office with key members of staff to refresh all of us on the procedures that we practice daily at the office level. additionally immediately informed acting secretary 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 the president is fully informed on military matters. i am submitting for the record a more detailed and unclassified memoranda i believe you all now have, although a little late. and i welcome a thorough walk through on every single one of these events and i'd be happy in a classified session to talk in detail about the intelligence that drove the calls. i'm also happy to make available
2:54 am
any e-mail, phone log, memoranda, witnesses or anything else you node to understand events. my oath is supporting the constitution of the united states of america against all enemies foreign and domestic and i will never turn my back on that oath. i firmly believe in civilian control of the military is a bedrock principle essential to the health of republic and committed to ensuring the military stays clear of domestic politics. thank you chairman. >> thank you general mckenzie. i understand you do not have a statement. ;is that correct? >> yes, sir. i'll waive my statement in order to get us back on schedule. >> thank you very much. secretary austin. the doha agreement represents direct negotiations with terrorists. and not just negotiations, but an agreement with them. that excluded the afghan
2:55 am
government and the allies who have been fighting with us now since 9/11. it set a fixed departure date with conditions has been indicated where not really can follow consistently by the taliban. 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 recommit attacks on our forces. >> and that would include any
2:56 am
means they could to attack american forces. >> that's correct, chairman. >> so the choice was in many respects was, were we going to incur additional casualties indefinitely in afghanistan. that's one way to look at it. is that fair? >> that's correct, chairman. you certainly would have to take additional measures to defend yourself if the taliban recommit 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
2:57 am
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. >> the momentum appeared to be shifting to the taliban. indications were their
2:58 am
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. but the taliban pursued a distinct strategy and had some success with it. >> now, general -- excuse me.
2:59 am
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. senator inhofe. >> thank you mr. chairman. it was two weeks ago that we had a closed, classified hearing
3:00 am
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 until actually 10:35 last night. so there really wasn't time to get into a lot of the details.
3:01 am
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.
3:02 am
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.
3:03 am
this didn't happen. the president biden's decision resulted in all the troops leaving, but the american 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
3:04 am
embassy and we know we took out almost 6,000 american citizens 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
3:05 am
chair and the vice chair/ranking member have each abided by the five minute rule. 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 toe vaccinate them. you explicitly told the
3:06 am
committee that in your professional opinion you did not 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
3:07 am
government. 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 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.
3:08 am
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.
3:09 am
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. 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 actually served with our military. and dod has been cited as the
3:10 am
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
3:11 am
answer to senator inhofe as well, you will have to ask the state department there. senator kaine gently but 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
3:12 am
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 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
3:13 am
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 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
3:14 am
that that our credibility would be damaged. our credibility has been gravely 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
3:15 am
a contested environment in 17 days. >> well you -- you testified that that was a great accomplishment. our withdrawal and our evacuation. 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
3:16 am
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 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
3:17 am
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?
3:18 am
>> 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 have to take a hard look at. the united states military was tasked to train, man and e kwap the afghan army. the germans were required to train, man and e kwap 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. that is one of many factors. that's one lesson. the other is --.
3:19 am
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
3:20 am
that from general mckenzie. >> 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.
3:21 am
i didn't realize my time was expired. 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 nebraskaen, corpsal dagen paige was one of the 13 service members killed in actio dagen paige was one of the 13 service members killed in action.
3:22 am
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? >> 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.
3:23 am
>> 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 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
3:24 am
reached out to russia about you saying russian bases in the central asian nations bordering 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? >> i can assure you that, you know, we are not seeking russia's permission to do anything. but i believe, and general
3:25 am
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 from the military and they give
3:26 am
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.
3:27 am
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 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.
3:28 am
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 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,
3:29 am
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. 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.
3:30 am
so this work continues and reremained continuing to continuing that work unless we get out as many american citizens that are willing to to 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 withdrawal there was a vacuum of leadership.
3:31 am
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, they have told us of individuals that are still there, more than 40 in kabul. i'm sure other organizations similarly know of such americans who are still there. >> thank you, senator. senator cotton, please. >> thank you. general milley, it's your testimony that you recommended 2,500 troops, approximately,
3:32 am
stay in afghanistan? >> as i've said many times before this committee and other 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
3:33 am
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? >> 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
3:34 am
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
3:35 am
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 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 asked 16 days out, not 5 days
3:36 am
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
3:37 am
protect our troops and our 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 remines -- 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
3:38 am
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 honoro, please.
3:39 am
>> 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. 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
3:40 am
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 august. however, u.s. forces conducted at least a couple of airstrikes in the middle of july aimed at blunting the taliban's rapid
3:41 am
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? >> 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,
3:42 am
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. >> 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. this is not the first time that i think we have relied upon
3:43 am
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
3:44 am
insurgencies, and we were quite effective, but it was their 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
3:45 am
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. 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
3:46 am
military. >> 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
3:47 am
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 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
3:48 am
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 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
3:49 am
time with handling what was a position in time for the people that were on the ground there to 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
3:50 am
the risk to force, and most 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 kane, 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 you want to suggest this to the committee, that you don't want to be responsive to that
3:51 am
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. 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
3:52 am
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.
3:53 am
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. 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
3:54 am
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 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?
3:55 am
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? >> 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
3:56 am
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 regard for american lives and the real threats we face. i do appreciate your open, your honest expectation in commune -- 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
3:57 am
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 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 he did take into consideration military or
3:58 am
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 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
3:59 am
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 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. who do we hand that mission off to when there is nobody there to complete it? so can you then say that the president directed you, secretary austin, to execute an unconditional withdrawal from afghanistan? unconditional. august 31st, done. >> once he made the decision to withdraw, that was a decision to
4:00 am
leave. and we certainly wanted to make sure that we shaped conditions so that our embassy could maintain a presence there and continue to engage the government of afghanistan. so protection of the embassy was pretty important. >> secretary austin, you are extremely diplomatic in your answers. i can appreciate that. but this was not a conditions-based withdrawal. and i think all three of you have 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. chair. i yield back. >> thank you, senator ernst. senator king, please. >> thank you, mr. chair. i'm finding this a very
4:01 am
interesting hearing. one question is should we leave afghanistan, and if we shouldn't, what is our troop commitment to the country? the decision was made on february 29, 2020 where we committed to leave on a date certain. there was a provision or condition, if you will, about negotiations between the taliban and the afghan government. there was even a date specified, march 10, 2020, less than two weeks after the signing of the doha agreement. clearly that condition was not met. my question is, and general milley, you were the only one who 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?
4:02 am
>> senator, as i said in my opening remarks, the conditions that were required of the taliban, none of them were met except one. >> my question was, did we attempt to enforce those conditions? had we informed the taliban, for example, we won't advocate for the relief of 5,000 prisoners unless you begin negotiations, or something similar? >> i don't have personal knowledge of that. whether or not others were personally saying that, i don't have personal knowledge of that. but i do know that none of the conditions were met except the one which is don't attack american forces or coalition forces. >> the conditions were not met, but you testified the troop withdrawals 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've testified you provided your best military advice to president biden that there should be a residual force left in afghanistan.
4:03 am
did you provide the same advice to president trump when they were negotiating the doha agreement? >> again, i'm not going to discuss precise advice -- >> was it your best military judgment that a residual force -- >> at that time, yes. and that's what that series of memos and advice, meetings, et cetera, in the september/october time frame, that's exactly what they were. you can talk to secretary esper. he can tell you the same thing. >> so your military judgment didn't change on january 20? >> no. >> general mckenzie, you touched on something, you were the only one in the dimension of this entire hearing. in my judgment, the key moments was the fleeing of president ghani and that that is, in fact, what really pulled the rug out from the military and demoralized the entire government. that was not the beginning of the end, the end of the end. do you have some thoughts on that? >> i think when we consider what happened to the afghan military,
4:04 am
you have to consider it completely linked to what happened in the afghan government. when your president flees with no notice in the middle of the day, that has a profound effect on everything else. events were pretty far along in august, i will admit that. i believe they could have helped parts of kabul if the president had stayed. i believe that demoralized the remnants of afghans and there were still afghans in kabul. i believe they were demoralized by that and led the taliban to push as far as they wanted to go in the center of the city. >> i do want to point out for the record that to my knowledge and memory, this committee never had a hearing on the decision to withdraw from afghanistan in february of 2020. it now appears that would have been a beneficial hearing because we could have discussed all of these issues, but we were already on the path for withdrawal. and the withdrawal date under
4:05 am
that agreement was may 1st of 2021. president biden extended that. i don't know whether it was a negotiation or some kind of understanding, until the end of august. general milley, in questioning from senator cotton, you talked about your military advice about 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 milley, admiral vazely and general donahue. the reason was the risk to american military and american citizens. we were already in conflict with isis. at that point in time, if we
4:06 am
stayed past the 31st, which militarily is feasible but it would have required an additional commitment of significant amounts of forces, probably 15, 20, maybe 25,000 troops. we would have had to declare kabul of the 6,000 taliban that were already in kabul. that's what would have happened beginning on the 1st. it would have put u.s. casualties on the american side and it would have put civilians that are still there at greater risk. so on the 25th we recommended we switch to a diplomatic option on the 31st. >> general milley, you said that the toll ban had not lived up to the terms of the agreement. give me a rough date of when they first breached terms of the agreement. you said they were not living up to the terms of the doha agreement. what was the first evidence they were not living up to the terms of the agreement?
4:07 am
>> the memo was signed on 29 february, so really through the fighting season of february 2020. >> so more than a year ago. >> absolutely. sure. >> i don't buy the idea that this president was bound by a decision made by a prior president. this was not a treaty. and clearly the taliban were not living up to it. this president could have reaffirmed conditions and completely changed the timeline. he's not bound by the president's agreement any more than he is bound by the president's decision to exit the iran deal or the paris climate accords. that to me is a false narrative. i also have to say that this president moving forward with a failed construct has cost american lives or has cost lives of north carolinans. we're working on a case with an
4:08 am
siv holder who had a sister who worked for an ngo say children had a father in the work force, the taliban is about as ruthless as the one we replaced in 2001. they sent pictures of the slit throats of people 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 gotten out. secretary austin, i think we do owe a debt of gratitude to the people who got it 120,000, 124,000 people out. it was a logistical success, but this is a strategic failure. general mckenzie, general miller said 2500. i've heard you and general milley also say you agreed with the idea, you personally agreed, you didn't necessarily say you recommended it to the president the 2500.
4:09 am
i understood from general miller that there was a broader context within that recommendation. there were 2500 fighters, u.s. fighters. but understand almost 5,000 nato allies, or 5,000 others that were willing to remain on the ground, and as general miller said, keep the hand on the shoulder of the afghan national forces so that we could have a counter to the taliban. is that correct, that it was bigger than that? it was in probably the 7,000 range? >> senator, you're correct. our nato allies would have been on board. >> and cia presence with bases out there for human intelligence to help us be more precise, more exquisite with the execution of whatever operations we had on the ground? >> that is correct, senator. >> 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 at least fair to say that in the inner agency discussion that those recommendations were
4:10 am
made and that in your best military advice, it would have kept the situation stable in afghanistan? >> i stated consistently that my position was if you go below 2500, you're going to look at a collapse of the afghan military -- i did not foresee it to be days. i thought it would take months. but the rest of the ecosystem would go out with it, too. the nato partners are going to leave, the interagency is going to leave and leave the afghans by themselves. >> did anybody realize that the thousand or so nato partners that stayed there as well, did any of you agreed with the president's assessment that if he acted on that recommendation that he ultimately would have to send tens of thousands more u.s. service members to afghanistan, that if we held that one that it would ultimately just delay the day where we would be back to 100,000 or 50,000 u.s. forces in
4:11 am
afghanistan? >> so, senator, these discussions were occurring in january, february, march. they're separate from the late august discussion, so i want to make that point clear. >> in your best military judgment, do you believe that the recommendations that general miller put forth was some 2500, and i think general milley said maybe up to 3500. do you believe that would have sown the seeds for ultimately having to send tens of thousands of u.s. service members back to afghanistan, as the president has said publicly? >> senator, i believe there was a risk you would incur increasing a tax by the taliban. that was a risk at holding at 2500. i'm really humbled recently by my ability to deduce what the taliban would or would not do, so i think it's hard to know. >> thank you. i'll get to my questions later about the people still stranded in afghanistan. thank you, mr. chair.
4:12 am
>> i'm leaving for the vote. senator hirono will take over. senator warren. >> it's hard to look at afghanistan without viewing the 20 years that led up to them. people say the last four months was a failure but before that was great clearly have not been paying attention. in 2020, they conquered their first province since 1971. by 2018, the afghan government controlled 54% of the seven districts, and by may of 2020, the afghan government controlled less than a third of the 77 districts. we poured support and air cover and the afghan government continued to fail. by 2021, it was clear that 2500 troops could not successfully prop up a government that had been losing ground and support
4:13 am
to the taliban for years. secretary austin, i understand that you advised 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 happened next. once president biden made the decision to have u.s. forces leave the country, who designed the evacuation? >> senator, again, i won't address the advice i gave the president. 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.
4:14 am
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, of course, from a military perspective in terms of the retrograde of the people and the equipment, that planning was done by central command and certainly principally by general miller. very detailed planning, and then we came back and briefed the entire interagency on the details of that plan. >> 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?
4:15 am
>> 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 the president followed the advice of his military advisors in planning and executing this withdrawal. as we've 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 remain in at and what your objectives are. there are a range of possibilities, but if you stayed there at a force posture of
4:16 am
2500, certainly you would be in a fight with the taliban. and you would 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 was not going to give us a different outcome. and anyone who thinks differently is either fooling himself or trying to fool the 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 advisors who planned and executed every step of this withdrawal. thank you, mr. chairman. or madam chairman. >> senator sullivan, you are recognized. >> thank you, madam chair. this committee recognizes that your constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the president or resign if you don't agree with his decisions and policies like secretary mattis
4:17 am
did. but i want to emphasize you do not have a duty, constitutional or otherwise, to cover for the commander in chief when he is not telling the truth to the american people. with that, i have a few questions that i'd like you to keep short, concise answers to. on august 18th, in a media interview to the american people, the president said none of his military advisors 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? >> i didn't even see the statement, to tell you the truth. >> i'm reading you a truthful statement. that was a false statement? i don't have a lot of time. was that a false statement to the american people or not? >> i'm not going to characterize the president of the united states. >> general mckenzie, was that a false statement? the president said none of his commanders said he should keep troops in afghanistan. remember, you do not have a duty
4:18 am
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,' given my judgment on it. >> i think we all know it was a false statement. that's number one. the president also said if there is an american citizen left behind in afghanistan, the military is 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 was the intent, but we gave him a recommendation on the 25th of august to terminate the mission on the 31st of august. >> the statement was untrue. let me ask another question. general milley, general mckenzie, the president around the same time said, quote, 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? true or not true? >> al qaeda is still in afghanistan. they were there in mid-august. they have been severely disrupted and attrited over many
4:19 am
years. >> so it wasn't true. let me make one final one. the president called this operation an extraordinary success. general miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion. general milley, was this afghanistan retrograde operation an extraordinary success? >> there were two operations, senator. >> just answer my question. >> there was the retro grade, which miller was in charge of, and there was the neo. the retrograde was executed and ended by mid-july with a religious force to defend the embassy. the neo -- >> you and i have discussed this. would you use the term extraordinary success for what took place in august in afghanistan? >> that's the noncombatant evacuation, and i think one of the senators said it very well. it was a logistic success but a
4:20 am
strategic failure. i think those are two different terms. >> here's the problem. i think the whole world knows -- this is the cover of "economist" magazine, biden's debacle. that had stories in it, articles in it called, the fiasco in afghanistan is a huge and unrelenting blow to america's standing. joe biden blames everybody else, that's another article. china sees america humbled. that's another article. and, gentlemen, the problem here, these are not marginal misstatements by the president to the american people, these are dramatic, obvious falsehoods 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 because it's a long one for the follow-up, but
4:21 am
here's the anger. i've never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this. it's a combination of everybody knowing there is a debacle but people defending it, quote, as an extraordinary success. here's the biggest. no accountability. no accountability. you gentlemen have spent your lives, and i completely respect it, troops in combat, you've been in combat, you've had troops under your command killed in action. you have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical and the american people respect that up and down the chain. where there are instances, commanders get relieved. up and down the chain we see it. the mccain incident, the fitzgerald incident, the av incident with the marine corps. three-star, four-star flag officers all relieved of duty. but on this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been
4:22 am
zero accountability. no responsibility from anybody. so i will ask this final question of all of you. senator cotton talked about -- >> senator sullivan, could you submit your questions for the record, please? we're trying to keep it to a five-minute questioning round. you can ask the question in your second round if you'd like. thank you. senator peters. >> thank you, madam chair. and thank you to each and every one of you for your service to our country. i want to return to some of the comments made by senator warren, and looking at over the last 20 years. i think if ever we're going to have a strategic assessment of what happened in afghanistan, it's important that any kind of strategic assessment is not just to look at the present but to look at the past and look at the
4:23 am
future and all three of those elements if we're making that assessment. if we're going to do that, we have to look at the last 20 years we were in afghanistan and we have to have a pretty hard-nosed assessment of that. general milley, you said strategic decisions have a lot of consequences and there are a lot of lessons to be learned over 20 years of our involvement in afghanistan. i've had the ability to travel to afghanistan on a couple of occasions. we've never asked our military leaders the situation in afghanistan. we often heard, well, it's a stalemate right now. but this year coming up is going to be different. this year will be different. i heard that year after year. this year is going to be different. i know we're in a stalemate, but this year is going to be different. there is one commentator who said, and i want you to comment on this. he said we didn't have 20 years
4:24 am
of wars in afghanistan, we had 21 years of wars in afghanistan. what would you say to that, secretary austin? >> we have to ask ourselves questions. did we have enough strategy? did we have too much strategy? if you're reshaping that strategy one year at a time, then that has consequences. so i think that's something we have to go back and look at. and we also have to look at the impact, the effect of the corruption that was in the environment, weak leadership, changes in leadership and a number of factors. >> well, i want to build on that because i think it's important, secretary austin. for example, general milley, when you commanded 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
4:25 am
similar assessments in 2015 and 2016 during testimony before this committee. as sen comm commander, you emphasized there were 120,000 forces and they were ready to leave security operations. i'll just say when i was in afghanistan, the input i got from our commanders was that this year is going to be different, we're going to be able to do things better. but i got a completely different assessment when i went to the mess hall and ate with the soldiers and the marines and the folks on the ground who said, i don't trust these folks that we're with. i don't know if they're going to fight. in fact, they don't even show up. they get their paycheck but they don't show up. there may have been instances where they've performed and i know you've highlighted some of those. my question from a strategic standpoint is did we become fixated on some tactical performance from our forces, their forces and forget to
4:26 am
measure the afghans' forces as one who could sustain a fight even though they're in a weak economy and a whole host of issues? >> clearly questions we have to drill deep on. at one point, as you know, senator, we had a number of advisors down to fairly low levels. as we began to lift the number of advisors that we had there and scale back on the people that we had interfacing with the afghans on a daily basis, we began to lose that fingertip feel. and so our ability to assess with some degree of certainty continued to erode the smaller that we got. >> my sense is that that's what we were hearing for years. it wasn't just at the end. this is an endemic problem for over a decade. so hopefully we will have the
4:27 am
opportunity to do that. that's my final question, secretary austin. what are we actually doing to learn from the conclusion of these military operations particularly from a strategic assessment point of view when it comes to end of conflict position. we're going to have issues like this even in great power competition. >> as we always do, senator, 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, and we're going to learn from those lessons and make sure we incorporate that into our planning and our strategic assessment going forward. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator peters. senator cramer, please. >> thank you for your service and thank you for being in command.
4:28 am
is it true that isis was under surveillance before august 26 and we could have destroyed them before the withdrawal from kabul but we were not given the opportunity to strike? >> no, that's not true. >> i noticed the president was quick to take a victory lap after the first strike. he wants union bosses to beat me up. he said things like just do it, if we find more, we'll strike them. of course, this is after he said to the isis-k leaders, we will hunt you down. he talks tough. i also noticed he's been equally silent taking no responsibility for the innocent strikes, including on children, and to me that's his need to feel tough. what i really worry about is the air crews who were pressured into pulling the trigger that terrible day. secretary austin, as you know,
4:29 am
the national guard operates air crews around the world and i know the kind of pressure those air crews are under, and the level of responsibility they feel to operate their missions properly. i'm worried whoever was operating the aircraft involved in the tragic august 29 strike was set up to fail by an administration that wanted a political victory more than they wanted an american victory. have you reached out to the air crew to make sure that they understand it's not their fault that there are seven dead children? >> i have not, senator. as you probably know, i have directed a 3-star review of this incident. general mckenzie did an initial investigation, and i've directed a 3-star review, and so i won't make any comments. >> you know, there certainly seemed to be a lot of indications that a terrorist event was likely, if not imminent, leading up to the
4:30 am
isis-k bombing on the 26th. why were our military members still exposed after that threat, general mckenzie? >> the purpose of our airfield was to bring american citizens and afghans at risk out. in order to do that, you had to have the gates open. you had to process people. you're right, there were a lot of threats. we worked hard to minimize those threats. you tried to balance it. every once in a while, the bad guys sneak one in on you. this is whether that occurred. it wasn't any lack of attention of trying to find those cells and looking hard for them. we did find a number, and we did, in fact, stop those attacks from occurring. this one we were not successful on. >> so speaking of that, i want to drill down just a minute since i have a couple. the taliban was controlling the checkpoints, obviously, around the airport. you had indicated, general mckenzie, that the u.s. at that time had -- you called take pragmatic relationship of necessity with the taliban.
4:31 am
did we share any information with the taliban about the isis-k threat, and if so, how did the taliban respond to it? in other words, how did they get in? is it possible they let them in on purpose? >> it is possible they let them in on purpose, but the body of intelligence indicates that is not, in fact, what happened. one event happened, and that's a terrible tragic event. a lot of other events didn't happen because that outer circle of talibans was there. i believe they >> all right. look, the reality is there are pancreatic americans all over the country and certainly in north dakota they're really upset. i mean, they're genuinely pissed off and they sense there's a lot of political positioning and apologizing and rationalizing,
4:32 am
and no one's really saying anything other than it was an extraordinary event. some of you admitted it wasn't perfect. but extraordinary success wrangales when they hear that. especially when they hear out of the 124,000 brought to the united states, we don't know a whole lot about a bunch of them. yet, we know a lot about a bunch that were not brought back at the united states. they're upset. i think you're seeing the reflection of that in their elected representatives. and this afternoon, we'll probably drill down into more. i look forward to learn more about august 26th. >> and first of all, thank all three of you. i appreciate the service to our country and have never doubted your unwavering commitment to defending our country and constitution. i'm old enough to understand.
4:33 am
i remember vietnam very well. i was in line to go there and had an injury and that didn't happen. so, anyway, i just can't explain to the younger generation, to my children or grandchildren, how do we get in and never get out? we didn't learn from vietnam. that was a horrible exit. 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 if we had an open amf, basically a time served on specific goal, do any of you think that could have made a difference? hindsight being 2020, how do we learn from these mistakes? we thought from vietnam we learned and here we are trading partners with vietnam. is that going to be the same with afghanistan?
4:34 am
i can't comprehend any of it, to be honest with you. so, anybody that wants to help me and general milley, i know you sagreat knowledge of history and how we've gotten into situations and how maybe we should keep repeating them. >> as i said, senator manchin, in my opening comment -- >> i wasn't able to be here. i was in the ar meeting. i'm so sorry. >> 20 commanders on the ground, seven or eight chairman of the joint chiefs, dozens of secretaries of defense, etc. and outcomes like this are not determined in the last five days, the last 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 is no way else to describe that. that outcome is a cumulative effect of 20 years, not 20 days
4:35 am
and there are a huge amount of strategic operational and tactical lessons that need to be learned from this. some of them, in the military sphere, the narrow military sphere, one of them, for example is the mirror imaging of the building of the afghan national army, based on american doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures. and that made a military that may, i'll await more evaluation, but may have been overly dependent on us, our contractors and higher tech systems to fight a counterinsurgency war. that's one area that needs to be fully explore. how did we miss a collapse in 11 days? and there are other factors not strictly military but things like legitimacy of the government, the position of the police forces and 10 or 20 i wrote down a week or two ago that need to be looked at in
4:36 am
depth and comprehensively over time. >> we know where the former president of afghanistan is today? and how much money he took with him? we have any idea? >> secretary, you have any idea? >> i think he may be in the uae, senator. i'm not certain of that. that's the last report i have. and in terms of any money he may have taken with him, i have no knowledge of any amounts of money. >> there's no way we can trace that to the banking institutions? no way we have insight on that whatsoever? has to be exchanges going back and forth because i'm sure the he's not keeping it in the bank of afghanistan. >> defense doesn't have any insight on that, senator. i'm not sure if the law enforcement agency -- >> maybe treasury might. i'm just looking for answers that maybe aren'tanceable.
4:37 am
everybody asked why didn't we see it? there's not a person on special ops. i was in there 2006, 2011. but every time it got worse, not better. so, this couldn't have been a surprise. they were never going to step to the plate and it couldn't be a surprise they wouldn't fight. they never had allegiance to the country and special ops said it gets worse every day, every mission was worse. we used to drive from kabul. after i went back the second time, we couldn't do that. it got so bad. everything got bad. and i got to tell this it drives me insane to see the television at night and see the taliban and all them wearing our uniforms, wearing our night vision, doing, using everything we v and everything else that we left there.
4:38 am
i just can't believe it. i can't get an accounting of how much equipment we did leave. i know how much aircraft and basically all the different things. but not to plan better to take that equipment out was unbelievable. >> i would just flag for you, senator that all the equipment that we had, that we used was retrograded by general miller as a part of the draw down. thousands of tons of equipment and whatever high-end equipment that we had that we're using. the equipment that the afghan security forces had, as a taliban took over is the equipment that you see. and of course, all of the helicopters that were left on the air field, i asked general mckinsey to demilitaryize those
4:39 am
so they could never be used again. we retrograded all the equipment we were supposed to retrograde as we drew down. >> i would hope not have intelligence repeat what we've continually seen doesn't work and with the expertise you have and knowledge you've gained from all this, please help us from ever repeating what we've done. >> thank you, senator manchin. senator scott, please. >> i want to thank each of you for being here. one thing i hope, at some point, you'll address is the content of your calls with regard to the chinese and whether -- what's been 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
4:40 am
about what's been going on the last few months is the president has blamed everyone else but himself for the botched withdrawal of afghanistan. he is the president, and can take all the advice he wants. he's blamed previous administrations, he's blamed the people of afghanistan, the military of afghanistan, which i think is disingenuous. the people in the white house, even our own military. secretary austin, some things you've said actually surprise me. you said you were ready. you said you exceeded expectations. you said our credibility is solid. and you've said that president followed your advice on the evacuation. first question is do you still believe that the most effective withdrawal strategy involved extracting the military, abandoning our military installations and reducing our use of force and ability to use force before we got our civilians out? >> thanks, senator.
4:41 am
first of all, the plan was to -- the decision was to end our military operations and draw down all of our forces and retrograde all of our equipment. and that was accomplished. general miller, i think, put together a great plan and executesed that plan, in accordance with the plan. 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 provide resources to support the afghan security forces. so, it was -- the plan was to leave a diplomatic presence there. and in conjunction with that plan, we also were going to leave a small military force to help secure the embassy. so, that was the plan.
4:42 am
>> you didn't address -- if it was your plan, you've acknowledged it was your plan and your plan said you would do all these things before we got our civilians out. when, in the history of this country, have we ever had the u.s. military have a plan that we will take our military out first before our civilians? i can't imagine that. >> when you say civilians, are you talking about american citizens? they would come out once a noncombattant evacuation is declared. and typically we don't evacuate all the citizens in a country. >> we didn't here. there's american citizens still there. >> and we continue to remain engaged and work to get those citizens out, senator. >> why would you propose a plan that didn't get all american citizens out? i can't imagine ever in the mystery of this country our u.s.
4:43 am
military would propose to leave a country without our citizens coming out first? have we ever done that before? >> all the american citizens wouldn't leave unless there was a noncombattant evacuation. the plan was to leave the embassy there, to continue to address the needs of our american citizens too, engage with the government and so that was part of the plan. again, the plan was never to evacuate the american citizens and leave the embassy there. >> did it bother you when the president went on national television and said he would not leave until all american citizens were taken out? because it was not truthful. >> you heard me say several times we're going to work as hard as we can to get every
4:44 am
american citizen out that wants to come out and we continue to do this to this day. >> when we have next round, what decisions would you make today to save the 13 lives of the men and women we lost at the kabul airport? thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator, if i could comment on your first opening comment, if i may. >> go ahead, sir. >> i'm happy to lay out any information to you. >> i share my colleague's concerns about the collapse of the afghan security forces and the afghan government and failure of our intelligence. we need some answers.
4:45 am
after investing two decades, nearly 2 trillion dollars and the lives of almost 2500 american troops, our nation must conduct a thorough and honest review since the 2001 terrorist attacks. we must capture the hard less ones to insure these lessons are not forgotten or worse, repeated on a future battle field. this is our moral responsibility as a nation. stoke secretary austin, was the situation over the last few months influenced by previous decisions made over the course of several years? >> absolutely believe that, senator. foremost, among those decisions is the doha agreement.
4:46 am
i think that severely impacted the morale of the military. >> thank you. if that's the case, is it possible to have an intellectually honest lessons learned exercise that only looks at the most recent exercise over the last couple of months or must any review look at the whole 20 years since september 11th? >> i think you have to look at that in20 years. >> i believe it must be comprehensive, afterall, it was shaped by 11 different congresses. no party should be looking to score cheap political partisan points off a nation building failure that was bipartisan in the making. instead, they should have an effort solely dedicated to
4:47 am
bringing -- i will be introducing the afghan war study commission. it would establish a bipartisan independent commission to examine every aspect of the war, including the political and strategic decisions that transform a military mission into vast nationbuilding campaigns. just as the 9/11 commissions were informing congressional law making efforts in the years after its publication. would you agree with me that such an independent long-term study could serve as a complimentary effort to the more targeted lessons learned reviews, particularly shedding light on how civilian leaders and congress can do a better job in defining the scope of military missions and actually enforcing legal limitations on
4:48 am
the use of force? >> i would. and i -- the point you're making, my view is it needs to be an interagency approach to this. >> thank you. and i do want to note that my family and i were in cambodia until the very end. i'm an american. born in thailand. but my father worked for the united nations and to answer my colleague's 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 had left. the american ambassador stayed behind and in fact, after the last military transport had left. i know this because my father was on the last military transport to leave cambodia and the ambassador had to travel over land. yes, we do leave americans behind but this is tied to neooperations and how it's planned. which is why it's so important we have an independent investigation. maybe the plan was we didn't
4:49 am
have a neoplan in place? but 23 that's the case, we need to learn that. i would ask for my colleagues to consider this independent commission. we put somebody in charge who's not in a decision-making capacity in the 20 years. make it nonpartisan and let's get those lessons learned so we don't make the same mistakes over and over. the families of the 2500 american troops who laid down their lives, who followed the lawful order of all of those presidents, they deserve better than partisan fights. we need to get some real answers. thank you. i yield back. >> now, let me recognize senator blackburn. >> thank you plrks chairman. gentleman, we thank you all for being here with us today. as you've heard from all of us, the american people, tennesseens are wanting answers. they deserve to hear your testimony and i think it is unacceptable that this is the
4:50 am
first time i'm hearing from you in any forum, despite attempts at outreach by both me and my staff, save a few short all-senator phone calls that we have had. and i want to emphasize all of us here, everyone of us answered to the american people. and they deserve transparency, and information regarding this administration's botched and disgraceful withdrawal. tennesseen strks are really angry, and as you know, general, it's home to the airborne, one of the most deployed divisions in the u.s. military. we're also homed to the specialized 160th, who were among the last on the ground, extracting u.s. citizens from danger in kabul. tennessee national guard units have deployed to afghanistan at a high operational tempo, as well as providing vital logistical services, such as refuelling.
4:51 am
we are home to more than 400,000 veterans. many of whom have lasting physical and psychological wounds from the time they have spend in service and tennesseeans are heartbroken over the loss of one of our own, a pancreatic american who represented the best of all of us. in the august 26th suicide bombing at the international airport, he made the ultimate sacrifice. and so, how did we get here? and how did we get to what has been a complete letdown to most tennesseeans? and i have a few questions. these are yes or no questions. so, quick answers are appreciated. general, were there options given for keeping american
4:52 am
troops in afghanistan, rather than the unconditional chaotic withdrawal? >> yes. >> you presented options and those options were declined? >> there were options presented and debated. a decision was made. >> yes or no is fine. did you at any point create options for keeping the airport open beyond the 2nd? >> yes. >> did you provide options for keeping it open directly to the president? >> yes. >> had it stayed open, would our support to the afghan air force have been more effective in your view? >> i didn't catch the last part. >> if it had 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 because most of the afghan air force was at different bases. >> president biden keeps calling it an extraordinary success.
4:53 am
we've discussed some of this today. is leaving americans behind an extraordinary success, in your view? secretary austin? >> we're not americans behind. >> yes or no is fine. is the killing of 13 american service men and women, while trying to oo secure a chaotic evacuation of the president's own making, a success? >> the loss of any civilian life is always tragic. >> does the fact that we failed to evacuate most of our afghan partners a success or the fact that we have afghans bringing child brides, people who have hardly vetted, is that an extraordinary success? >> these are issues we continue to work to get our american citizens out and afghans -- >> per article two of the constitution, the president may require the opinion in writing of the principal officer in each of the executive departments.
4:54 am
did the president ever require our request, written recommendations related to the withdrawal of afghan forces? yes or no? >> we provided -- i provided our input as a part of a policy process that was very well and deliberately run. >> you didn't completely answer that. general milley? >> yes. >> would you make those available to us? >> make it available upon request and with appropriate classifications. >> we will do so. and general mckinsey? >> yes. >> and you will make those available? >> based on the guidance by the secretary. >> general milley, yes or no to this. did you talk to bob woodard or
4:55 am
bob costa? >> woodward yes, costa no? >> "can i fix it?" >> yes. >> did you talk to michael bender for his book? >> yes. >> and were you accurately represented in these books? >> i haven't read any of these books. so, i don't know. >> let's have you read the books and let us know if you're accurately portrayed. >> happy to do that. >> i yield back my contact. >> thank you. >> senator rosen, please. >> thank you, chairman reed, ranking member, for holding today's very important hearing. a critical part of the oversight responsibilities. it's an opportunity for the american people to get answers about our withdrawal from afghanistan and how we plan to
4:56 am
counterterrorist threats in the future. i want to sincerely thank the brave men and women who served our country in afghanistan, many who made the ultimate sacrifice and, of course, their families as well. secretary austin and general mckinsey, i appreciate you being here to address the lingering concerns we have about the last two decades of war and the last two months in particular. you are all men of honor and integrity, who have served nobly and i look forward to your candid responses to my questions, even if they require admitting, in some cases, serious mistakes were made. as the taliban approached kabul and eventually took over the city and my country, my team and i worked to help vulnerable individuals evacuate. they have the state department's approve to leave afghanistan for the u.s. or third-party country. but due to crowds or legitimate fear of being killed along the
4:57 am
way, they could not physically get to a gate to present their paperwork, no matter how many times they tried or no matter how long they waited. my office worked with the afghanistan task force -- to coordinate opportunities to grab them from the crowd so they could flee to safety but unfortunately, again, these efforts were to no avail. as these individuals continue to wait for help that may never come, i remain frustrated the u.s. did not set up a perimeter around kabul or at the very least create a safe corridor for the visa holders to get to the airport for their families, potential asylum seekers, who were attempting to escape a near-certain death. so, continued support. general milley, i appreciate the state department taking the lead on evacuations. but like our military, the state department no longer has any
4:58 am
presence on the ground in afghanistan. so, i'd like to ask you, sir, does the u.s. military's resant experience give you the confidence the taliban will be honest brokers in working with our diplomats to help vulnerable afghan nationals leevl the country? >> i think what we've seen so far from the 31st is some americans have gotten out through diplomatic means and reached safety through, either overland routes or aircraft. i can't imagine that didn't happen without taliban facilitation. >> well, we can get back to afghan nationals helping them leave the country as well. those siv holders an others. utilize every tool available to hold the taliban accountable but they filed to meet commitments
4:59 am
to provide safe passage for anyone who wants to leevl the country. 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, as you know, we have 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 vencher to make any comments on that. i would just say that we have coordinated some things that are very narrow in scope with them
5:00 am
to get our people out, as you know and to continue to further evacuate american citizens. but i won't -- 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 just like to, in the few seconds i have left, future counterterrorism operations. we have to reorganizeinize our capabilities and assets in the region as we move to over the horizon scenario. secretary austin and general mckinsey, like the answer to what is the plan for an enduring counterterrorism strategy that you can address and counterthe influence of the violent organizations in afghanistan. >> thank you.
5:01 am
>> here's what i've learned so far. number one, president of the united states lied to the american people lied about the advice you gave to him about the military judgment you provided to him. i think you've all testified to that effect now repeatedly. and they attempt to push back the evacuation to such a time it became a catastrophe, apparently against your advice and the pentagon failed to plan for the potential collapse of the security forces or the collapse of the afghan government, despite there being quite a lot of warning for really, frankly, years that the afghan security forces were ill equipped, ill trained and not up to the job. i'd like to explore those things with you in this round or the next. but first, i have to take issue with something you said. i've heard it out of the mouth of the press secretary and others. we are not leaving americans behind.
5:02 am
that was your quote a minute ago. with all due respect, sir, you have left, past tense, americans behind. we have no presence in afghanistan and not just americans generally, civilians you left behind. against the president's explicit commitment not to leave until all american citizens were out and to safety. that is not what happened. and now we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out of the country, coming to me, to members of the committee asking for help. they can't get that help. they're stuck behind enemy lines. so, please don't tell me we're not leaving americans behind. you left them behind, joe biden left them behind. >> thanks for your help in continuing to help get american citizens and afghan whose have helped us out of the country but as you've seen we've continued to facilitate -- >> i didn't ask you a question. but you seem to want to address the issue.
5:03 am
isn't it true you've left americans behind on august 31st? >> there are americans, americans that were still in afghanistan and are. continue to get them out. let's not repeat the false hood that we didn't leevl americans behind. youbl eluded to several times that the military was ready. by late april, they crafted a number of scenarios and that you were waiting for the state department to make a decision about evacuations. nbc news is reporting that the military wanted to begin evacuations earlier about the state house and department intervened and said no, we're delaying the evacuation of the civilians. was it your judgment and opinion that evacuations should have
5:04 am
begun? >> we provided our input into the state department. >> i understand that. i'm asking about your testimony that in april you'd developed evacuation scenarios, and this is reported by multiple sources today in the news. so, as of late april, was it your opinion that the evacuations of civilians should begin earlier earlier than they did? we put out input of a gans that have helped us along the way. as early as possible. the state department's made its decisions based upon the fact that, even president gony had engaged them and said we're very concerned about the mass exodus of civilians from the country.
5:05 am
>> did you advice that the rapid withdrawal timeline, effectively getting us to zero by the middle of july and if we drew down to zero in july and had a civilian evacuation order, we'd be in trouble. did you warn about that possibility of drawing down so quickly before civilian evacuation was underway? >> yeah, but it's more complicated than that. the draw down of the forces under miller, that -- those guys are advisors. the neotroops are marine expeditionary units and 82nd airborne. that's what you need to do the neo.
5:06 am
those are the plans i believe he was talking about developed early on. the state department calls the time of the neo. and on the 12th of august started pushing forward orders. should that have been called earlier? i think that's an open question that needs further exploration. but the april piece and the draw down of the advisors, that's a separate and distinct task. those 2500 advisors weren't the guys bringing american citizens. they were advisors to the afghan security forces. we raised throughout the interagency that when the advisors, if they were to stay, then there's a possibility the afghan security forces -- we knew when we pulled the advisors out, when we pulled the money out, most said it was in the fall, the afghan security forces
5:07 am
were going to fracture and the government collapse. the speed at which it happens in august is a different animal. the advisors are gone by midjuly, there is still a government, still an afghan army and the assumption was it would remain and the mission was to keep the embassy open, secure embassy, transition that off to contractors and then all the military would be out and it would be a diplomatic mission. none of that happens because that army and government collapsed rapidly. as soon as those fractured, others in the government implemented a neoplan, for which contingencies were built. there was a plan for a rapid collapse and that was the neoplan that general mckinsey had come up and what was executed. that's why the 6,000 troops could deploy as rapidly as they did. that was done with planning.
5:08 am
and from an operational and tactical standpoint, we did lose. we had a strategic failure where you have an operational and tactical success by soldiers on the ground. i think we're conflating things we need to separate so we clearly understand what exactly. happened. i'm sorry frataking all that time but thought it was necessary. senator kelly. >> mr. secretary, let me begin by expressing my gratitude to each of the over 800,000 americans. many of them arizonans who served in the past 20 years and their families. i commend our service members support of one of the largest air lifts in our country's history. we will never forget the achievements of the men and women who work 24/7 in kabul, managed impossible conditions on
5:09 am
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. still, after decades of conflict, 2500 american soldiers killed and billions invested insecurity 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 insure our people were out before it fell. 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 leader. and our accountability must
5:10 am
match our influence. for our own national security. they served in afghanistan during our longest war. we must understand what happened. and look forward to insure that our poster allows us to provide for our national security and prevent afghanistan's use as the base for terrorist activity. so, i want to transition and look forward and not ask you questions that you've already answered. general mckinsey. america's armed forces have been on the frontlines 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 collapse and the taliban seeking to fill
5:11 am
the power vacuum left behind, how is central command poster to prevent terrorist organizations from gaining strength in the region? >> the details would be best left to the classified session we'll have later this afternoon. but i'll tell you i have have today, headquarters with the ability to look to afghanistan, albeit limited, and the ability to fuse intelligence and look particularly at isis k and al qaeda. we do have a way forward. i've told the committee before it is very hard to do this. it is not impossible to do this. >> i'm looking forward to seeing those details in the closed hearing. are you confident we can deny organizations like al qaeda and isis the ability to use afghanistan as a launch pad for terrorist activity? >> i think that's yet to be seen. we're still seeing how al qaeda and isis are configuring
5:12 am
themselves against the taliban. we're still seeing what the taliban is going to do. i would not say i'm confident that's 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 do you have the resources necessary to accomplish this, even as our national security pivots towards great power or nuclear threats like china and russia, seeking to expand their influence and compete with the military? >> i'm in a constant dialogue about requirements and i'll give you more details in the closed session. >> well, thank you. and i know you can't go into much detail about the analysis that led to the august 28th drone strike in kabul 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 willed a
5:13 am
kwtly assess targets before conducting future strikes and operations, even as we have even fewer local intelligence and surveillance resources to leverage? >> the matter is investigation. what i can tell you broadly is i'm responsible for that. it happened in my area of responsibility. moreover, i was under no pressure and no one under my chain of command below me was under pressure to take that strike. we acted several times on intelligence that we saw and were successful in other occasions in preventing attacks. this time, tragically, we were wrong and you're right to noted that, as we go forward and our ability to create the ecosystem that allows you to see on the ground and put it together is going to be harder in places like afghanistan. >> thanks for being here today.
5:14 am
you're part of the most powerful military in the world. i'll ask all three of you this question. is there any enemy that could defeat the strongest force in the world, the united states military? and i know all of you are going to say no. so, secretary austin, since conformation, have you been denied resources with regard to afghanistan? i think you said earlier you got everything you needed? >> that's correct sir. >> you were asked why we couldn't rescue americans to reach the airports? i said i don't have what's necessary to reach them in kabul. we saw the german and french rescue citizens in kabul. but from this administration we saw nothing but blame. weakness in our american citizens were left to fend for themselves. our fighting men and women have the courage, training and discipline to do d feet the enemy anytime, anywhere.
5:15 am
and there's people wondering why would we let our allies get their people and we didn't get ours? i want to thank the veteran whose sacrificed over the past 20 years and i truly believe our soldiers didn't fail us. our leadership did. before president biden even took office, you thought we needed to leave afghanistan. on january 19th, you told my colleagues, quote, i think this conflict needs tee come to an end and we need to see an agreement reached in accord nsz with what the president elect wants to see. quote, you testify general milley had adequate resources. but you said you wanted to, quote, assess the situation and make recommendations to the president. end quote. did you give advice the president on the withdrawal from afghanistan without conditions
5:16 am
or is that the advice 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 you made about the question i answered for a reporter who asked why don't you go out and establish cordens 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 innovative approaches to go out and pick up and facilitate the entry of american citizens into the
5:17 am
airport, as the situation continued to develop. but just wanted to give you context. we're all talking about did president biden know all of this and my question about withdrawal. basically, there's two options. either the president was given bad military advice or he gave his military the terrible decision and direction to surrender afghanistan without condition. i'll have some more in a few. the american people, especially people i represent, they're disgusted by how the u.s. surrender happened in afghanistan and i know you've heard that yourselves, all three of you. veterans are pissed off that their service was andaundered. allies are in disbelief that american's enemies are delighted. and the taliban are euphoric at the job that happened with our
5:18 am
military, given orders to retreat. president biden abandoned our allies, who fought along side 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 created a sanctuary for terrorists to plot for years and years to come. it's absolutely amazing that we did this. i'll end it there. i know these guys need take a break. but we'll see you after the break. i yield my time. >> thank you very much. senator. we have completed the first round. and as i indicated, we will break at 1:00 for lunch. so, we'll begin the stekd round. secretary austin, you said in response to senator warren that if we stayed past august 31st, we would certainly be back at war in afghanistan and you'd
5:19 am
have to reinforce yourself. to that question, staying 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 acceptable rate? >> i think the point is had we stayed past that date that was agreed upon early on, that the taliban would begin to attack our forces here. and 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. >> and in the agreement president trump agreed to leave with certain conditions on may 1st. those conditions have been testified by the panel that were
5:20 am
really never achieved, never challenged by the trump administration. would you consider that an ad vocation or surrender, that agreement? >> i certainly believe that conditions were preset. and again we lived up to all the things that we were obliged to do. we didn't attack them. and we drew down our forces. but the taliban, the only thing they lived up to was they didn't attack us. >> and we saw a great deal of difficulty in meeting the deadline, which was august 31st. would it appear to you that a may 1st deadline would have caused more complications in terms of getting equipment out
5:21 am
and personnel out, identifying americans eligible to leave and getting paperwork, since you would be doing it in a much shorter timeframe? >> i don't think that would have been feesable to do in an orderly fashion. >> general milley, regardless whether the taliban met conditions in the doha, weren't you already in a commitment to reach zero forces 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 15 january, which was changed to go to 2500 to 15 january and take it down to zero, depending on the decisions of the new administration. >> and your prepared testimony indicates the biden
5:22 am
administration conducted arrears in the situation of afghanistan in february, march, and april, where leadership were given serious review and you testified you received an order to withdrawal all forces from afghanistan by january 15th, 2021. was that november order similarly by a rigorous interagency review? >> no. >> so that was basically -- >> secretary asper submitted recommendations in written format on the 9th, the day he was relieved. and 48 hours later we received a written order to go to zero by 15 january. >> i think general mckinsey, again, your advice for maintaining 2500 troops has been
5:23 am
reiterated repeatedly. but you also recommended in the falloff 2020, 4,000 troops? >> that's correct. when we were having deliberations, i recommended we hold at that level. >> and that was rejected by the trump administration? >> it was. >> and there was no incriminations against you or anyone else. that was the president of the united states making a decision based on his view of the world? >> in so far as i know, that's correct, sir. >> thank you very much. and into the 5-minute rule, i will seed back eight seconds. >> thank you, mr. chairman. the -- one good way to judge any president's decision is whether it's made america and people safer.
5:24 am
and general, ask all three of you, you have noted the taliban has not severed its relationship with al qaeda. president biden stated on july 8th that al qaeda is gone from afghanistan. i'd ask you is al qaeda gone from afghanistan? generals? >> senator, i think there are remnants of al qaeda still in afghanistan. >> does anyone believe al qaeda is gone from afghanistan? president biden said at the united nations recently that this nation is no longer at war. is it your personal view al qaeda is no longer at war with us? start at the right, general. >> i believe al qaeda is in afghanistan. i believe they have aspirations
5:25 am
to reconstitute and if they develop the capability, i believe that they have aspirations to strike. er for it's too early in the process right now, senator too, determine the capability but i do believe -- >> do you believe the personal view that was stated that al qaeda is no longer at war with us right now? >> i think al qaeda is at war with the united states still and never has not been. >> thank you. does a withdrawal from afghanistan decrease or increase the likelihood of an al qaeda or isis attack on the u.s. homeland? >> you asking me, senator? my view is that it makes it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence and we can strike from almost anywhere in the world but the find fix function is more difficult. we can still do it.
5:26 am
but it will make it more difficult. >> will you trust security to the taliban that they failed to prevent the isis k suicide bomber on august 26th. we don't really even know if they want to prevent it. now they're in the same situation, trusting the taliban to prevent attacks. the senator from missouri brought up and talked again about the fact that what is -- 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 already. 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
5:27 am
presence, military presence, but they had four other things 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 against the threatening united states -- against threatening the united state thirdly deny residents and visas and passports to those threatening the united states allies and third, begin negotiations with the afghan government. those were conditions made at that time. and this has been stated several times, this is 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.
5:28 am
>> thank you. >> thank you plrks chairman. secretary austin, i'm going back to my question about the records that special immigrant visa applicants really need in order to qualify for those visas that -- and there's not been a good process through dod to insure they get those records. is that something 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 to insure those folks who worked with our men and women have the documentation they need to show that. i know the challenge is many of the records have been destroyed. i would hope there's some way we can insure those people are able to get the documentation they need to come to this country. >> senator, let me first say i
5:29 am
absolutely agree with you that the process is honeerous and we need to make it easier for people who 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 propose ways to trunkate the process or come up with alternative means to demonstrate they have worked with us in the past. and to answer your question, we would welcome working with a committee on this. >> thank you. i assume we should contact your office to see who the appropriate contact person should be? >> we'll contact your office and let you know who he is, senator. >> okay. general milley and mckinsey, it's long been publicly reported that the pakistani intelligence
5:30 am
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 paris 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 more detail in the closed session. but i believe pakistan's relationship 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
5:31 am
pakistan in ways they've been able to deflect before because of the pressure we and our allies had then. that's a significant problem pakistan is going to face. i'll talk about the special weapons in the closed session. as has been noted by several people, to get to afghanistan, you have to fly over pakistan, unless you come from the north. that's a source of continuing deliberation with pakistan. over the 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. we'll be working with the pakistanis in the days and weeks ahead to look at what the relationship is going to look like in the future. i can talk more in the closed session. >> thank you. general milley, did you want to add to that? >> i have had several conversations with pakistanis. there's no question in my mind the relationship is going to become increasingly complex. there's rar whole series of
5:32 am
issues 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 have had with some of the civilians from our nato allies, there was some 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 have? >> 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 us to sound pollyannish, but they have
5:33 am
been thankful for the fact 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 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 at the 1:00 adjournment. a little early, a couple minutes, and then we'll propertily 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.
5:34 am
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. 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 that we saw in august that other elements were unable to do that. 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 to do. >> it really is difficult to do.
5:35 am
>> it's harder to do in afghanistan. we were having some small success with that, and actually, afghan air force continued to flee strikes well into august, but they were nevertheless, on a general negative attrition. >> what percentage would you term as elite? >> oh, i would say less than 5%. >> okay, and so really, for 95%, it's really -- it was 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, 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. i think that they -- the taliban were heartened by what they saw at doha and what followed and our decision to get out by a certain date. i think the afghans were very weakened by that morally and spiritually. >> let me rush to try to get another question in.
5:36 am
secretary austin, the reports in "the new york times" are that you warned the president all the way back in march there could be dire outcomes in which the afghan folded in an aggressive advance by the taliban. and that you drew comparisons between that and our 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 have 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
5:37 am
worked our way through the process here, we laid out, you know, 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. >> well, certainly, then we get back to the specific conversation that i would have had. but it's clear that i have a history with iraq. it's clear that i have learned there are lessons to be learned from iraq, and i would certainly -- >> was is your feeling we had seen this movie before? >> well, there are certainly some of the same kinds of things could transpire as we looked to transition. >> okay. speaking of things transpiring, one was that we had to go back in to iraq. secretary austin, does the department of defense have plans in place to redeploy u.s. combat
5:38 am
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, as you know, is that we have left iraq -- excuse me, afghanistan. and so we have not been tasked to 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
5:39 am
the military strongly that that was not a good idea based on that advice the president rescinded that order. is that correct? >> correct. >> and none of those conditions that president trump based his decision on had been met in 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.
5:40 am


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on