Skip to main content

tv   Pentagon Officials Testify on Afghanistan  CSPAN  October 28, 2021 1:06pm-2:12pm EDT

1:06 pm
discrimination against older americans and a vote is possible on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the senate in august. house speaker pelosi set to brief reporters at 2:00 p.m. eastern and we're planning to bring that to you lee when it start here's on -- live when it starts here on c-span. >> monday the u.s. supreme court hearing oral arguments in two cases concerning the texas abortion law, s.b.8 which bans nearly all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. at 10:00 a.m. eastern they hear a case on the part of the law that gives citizens the ability to enforce the law in civil court. watch live coverage on c-span2, live or on demand at listen on krn sparveg radio or on the new c-span now mobile
1:07 pm
app. >> the senate armed services committee held a hearing on the taliban's takeover of afghanistan and the u.s. evacuation of the country. they heard from the undersecretary of defense for policy and a lieutenant general
1:08 pm
mr. reed: i will now call the meeting to order. this is the sixth in a series of engagements that seeks to assess the united states' 20-year mission in afghanistan, understand factors that led to the taliban takeover of afghanistan, and the collapse of the country and and broad irer national security priorities. joining us today is under-secretary of defense for policy and lieutenant general james, director for operations j-3 joint staff.
1:09 pm
i thank you both for being here. i know there may be a tendency during this hearing to focus on our final months in afghanistan. our withdrawal this summer and the events did not happen in a vacuum. the path that led to this outcome was paved with years of mistakes from our catastrophic pivot to iraq, flawed doha agreement. this is not a democrat or republican problem. these failures have manifested over four presidential administrations of both parties. and the willingness to correct the past mistakes will impact the future. one fundamental question is how did the decade-long strategy for building the afghan national defense and security forces result in a force that was capable of defeating the taliban and seemingly collapse in a matter of days. we need to develop what led to the development of afghan
1:10 pm
security forces, and which were incapable of operating without u.s. and coalition support. in addition, we need to assess the extent to which the failure of the afghan government to earn the loyalty of the security forces contributed to their being unwilling to defend the kabul government against the taliban. that is why it's important to look at the entirety of the 20-year mission in afghanistan. i agreed with secretary austin and general milley's testimony there should be a comprehensive review spanning the war in iraq. i will support it as senator
1:11 pm
duckworth and a number of our colleagues have taken the lead in preparing. i look forward to authorizing such review as part of the national defense authorization act. at the same time we cannot allow our past mission to come at the expense of our national security for today and the future. while the united states ended its military mission in afghanistan, we must continue to ensure al qaeda, isis-k and other terrorist groups cannot go to afghanistan to attack the united states and our allies. we must remain vigilant about these threats and ensure that we establish an effective andro bust counterterrorism architecture moving forward. last week, members of this committee had an update of threats. the american people are deserved to make sure that the united states is actively engage in defending the homeland emanating from this region.
1:12 pm
i'd ask you to the extent you can during today's open session provide an update on efforts to address the threat from terrorist groups operating in afghanistan and across south and central asia. i'd also appreciate an update on building a new regional counterterrorism architecture. finally, i'd like to understand the status of negotiations with reeng national allies and partners to the stymie such efforts and strategies. before i turn to ranking member inhofe for his opening remarks, i will remind my colleagues there will be a classified session immediately following this open session a in sv-217, the office of the senate security and also remind my colleagues, there are scheduled three votes this morning. so this will be somewhat complicated. with that let me recognize the ranking member, senator inhofe. senator. senator inhofe: thank you,
1:13 pm
mr. chairman. thank you to our witnesses for appearing here today. welcome back, secretary kahl, as the most senior policy advisor at d.o.t. it's appropriate you agree to testify in open session on these critical issues. let's be clear why we're here today. as a result of the chaotic withdrawal of the u.s. troops in afghanistan, 13 service men and women were killed, at least hundreds of american citizens were left behind, and many thousands of afghan partners have been abandoned. although some of our questions on this drawdown have been answered, we still have a long way to go until all of our questions are answered. and i want to thank chairman reed for working with us on continuing this oversight process. now, too often, the current administration tells us that president biden was forced to
1:14 pm
withdraw from afghanistan because of president trump's agreement with the taliban. and that's just not true. i think everyone knows that's not true. first, president biden hasn't felt bound by president trump's policies on anything else. on iran or on the southwest border or on funding our military. second, the doha agreement was a condition-based approach. under president trump's plan and the u.s. agreed to withdraw troops only if the taliban met seven conditions. these conditions included preventing the -- al qaeda were threatening the united states from afghanistan and denying residence to those threatening the united states. these conditions weren't met. in fact, as general milley told us, only one of the seven conditions was met. as we've heard in recent
1:15 pm
hearings, al qaeda remains active in afghanistan and will likely threaten the united states homeland very, very soon. and that's why all of president biden's military advisors told him to keep at least 2,500 troops -- to continue fighting the terrorists, to protect americans here and in the homeland. president biden withdrew anyway. he did not feel bound by president trump's conditions-based approach and did not follow it. i wish he had. he would be -- we would all be safer today if that were the case. now, secretary kahl, you were confirmed on april 27. so you did not make a recommendation on president biden's decision to pull all of the troops from afghanistan by a set date rather than based on the conditions on the ground. so you were the most senior
1:16 pm
policy advisor at d.o.d. for the next four months as this tragedy played out. from may through the end of august. what i want to know and what the american people want to know and what our troops who served and sacrificed in afghanistan absolutely deserve to know is what did president biden's most senior advisors do during those four months. we want to understand what this national security team did on a day-to-day basis as a warning light after warning light began to blink red. we need to understand and then fix what went wrong so that we can keep the american families safe and protect our interests in the future. the consequences of the president's disastrous decision
1:17 pm
are impossible to ignore. an afghan interpreter for our australian allies was executed last week. china is going after rare earth metals. girls are prevented from going to school. that's just the beginning. the danger is likely to grow. across the world and in our own backyard. we have heard from our military officials and our intelligence officials how little we really know about the rising threat of terrorism now that afghanistan is a safe haven for these organizations. but instead of an honest look at what went wrong, the biden administration has hunkered down and said this withdrawal was an extraordinary success. instead of putting together a real counterterrorism plan for the future, all we get is buzz words. so i look forward to our
1:18 pm
witnesses' testimony. thank you, chairman reed. chairman reed: thank you very much, senator inhofe. dr. kahl, mr. secretary, please begin. secretary kahl: chairman reed, ranking member inhofe, and distinguished members of the senate armed services committee, thank you for the opportunity to join you today to discuss the military withdrawal from afghanistan and the department's role in operationalize welcome. today, i'm joined by lieutenant general jim mingus, joint staff, who will provide opening remarks following mine. let me start by echoing secretary austin and expressing my pride in our service members. over the last 20 years in afghanistan, our men and women in uniform have performed countless acts of bravery. 2,461 of them paid the ultimate sacrifice while doing so. i know members of this committee share my gratitude to our troops who have faithfully served and sacrificed, spent moneys and years away from family and loved ones, and endured repeated
1:19 pm
combat tours all to protect the homeland. for two decades, our men and women serving in afghanistan acted with courage and compassion. yet, the performance of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines during the historic evacuation was unparalleled. in the 48-hour span following the taliban takeover of kabul, our troops on the ground secured an airport and contested territory. in just 17 days, they evacuated the largest airlifted people in history. in both scope and scale, enabling the evacuation of 127,000 citizens, lawful permanent citizens, third country nationals, afghan partners, including those for special immigrant visas and the locally employed staff and other vulnerable afghans at risk. asry testified previously, no other military on earth could have accomplished that feat and we as americans should be immensely proud. the success of the u.s. evacuation operation was enabled by our military planners and
1:20 pm
their diligent development of contingency plans. immediately following the president's april announcement of our military withdrawal from afghanistan, the department of defense went to work ensuring that the drawdown can be accomplished responsely. though we did not imagine a situation in which the afghan government and security forces would collapse in a matter of days prior to the conclusion of our retrograde, the department began iterating on evakiation scenarios, including the possibility of a contested evacuation in the spring of 2021. not only did we plan, we proactively took steps in case of emergency. in june, the secretary prepositioned forces in the region and sent the ronald reagan airier strike group to cover them. additional forces were placed on alert. forethought as well as skill and bravery allowed them to execute this extraordinary mission. to be sure, there were implications and tragedy. while airlifting up to 9,000 people per day in can bubble,
1:21 pm
we -- kabul, we experienced overcrowding on their way to the united states. in a highly dynamic environment, we constantly had to adapt to access and evacuate u.s. citizens, lawful permanent residents and afghan evacuees. in the end, we were unable to reach some of those we sought to evacuate by august 31. there were also heartbreaking costs. in the final days of the withdrawal, we lost 13 service members to a horrific isis-k attack on the airport. we will forever mourn the tragedy of their deaths and honor the humanity they demonstrated in their final mission. i am also acutely aware of the costs borne by afghans. last week i met with the president of nutrition and education international, dr. kwan. he told me the extraordinary life lived by an aide worker employed by n.e.i. and one of
1:22 pm
the 10 civilians mistakenly killed during the august 29 air strike in kabul. it was clear from our conversation that among the 10 innocent lives lost, including children, afghanistan lost a tremendous humanitarian in this erroneous strike. and for that we at the department are deeply sorry. just as i committed to dr. kwan, i commit to each of you that the doctor will ensure a thorough investigation and accounting for the august 29 air strike. how we can more stringently prevent civilian harm in the future. and how we can support the family of those lost via a condolence payment. our military mission in afghanistan may have ended on august 31, burr our service members, diplomats and government employees remain hard at work. the u.s. government continues to facilitate the departure of u.s. citizens and lawful permanent residence as well as afghans who worked for with us in afghanistan. from september 1 to october 25, the u.s. government has directly facilitated the departure of 240
1:23 pm
u.s. citizens and 157 lawful permanent residence as well as others who came out on private charters. physically evacuating u.s. citizens, lawful permanent residents, our afghans at risk from kabul airport was one step in the extraordinary accomplishment of our military. across the globe and throughout this country, over 10,000 of our men and women in uniform continue to support the afghan people alongside our interagency partners via operations allies welcome. we built out installations to serve as temporary locations for evak ways as -- evacuees as they underwent the health screenings for them to come to the united states. it was enabled by u.s.'s allies and partners. it demonstrates our bilateral relationships across the globe continue to be a source of great national strength. at home, we have drawn upon another wealth spring of national power -- the generosity and hospitality of the american
1:24 pm
people. we have welcomed over 65,000 afghan evacuees to eight safe haven sites located on domestic military installations as they complete the necessary steps to be resettled within the united states. american communities are opening their arms and embracing the evacuees. with their support, the resilient afghan spirit is coming to life. an interpreter started an informal education program for afghan children. in fort dix, new jersey, they performed wedding ceremonies. american service members continue to work around the clock to ensure evacuees are safe and welcome on our installations. every day we see our men and women in uniform trading high-fives, trading fist bumps and playing ball with afghan children. despite the end of our military presence in afghanistan, the work of the department is far from over krchlt we are
1:25 pm
examining and learning from the past, reckoning with the uncomfortable truth that despite decades and billions of dollars in investment, the military evacuated -- evaporated. we will work on counterterrorism operations to ensure that no threat emanating from afghanistan can harm our homeland or interests even as we refocus the department on the challenges posed by china, russia, and other competitors and adversaries. i know this committee has many questions about the war, the evacuation and our path forward. i look forward to taking them but before i do, i'd like to thank the members of this committee for your continued support and partnership. and with that i'd turn it over to general mingus. general mingus: thank you. i want to thank chairman reed, ranking member inhofe and all members today for your enduring support of our entire joint force. i'd like to thank you for providing me an opportunity to speak to you about the
1:26 pm
military's deliberate withdrawal from afghanistan and the department's contribution to the interagency effort to evacuate fully vetted special immigrant visa holders and evacuation operation for u.s. citizens and other afghans. our interagency coordination and partnership were and continue to be critical to the ongoing evacuation processing, and resettlement of evacuees. i could not be more proud of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians whose service and sacrifice throughout the afghanistan campaign is humbling. it has been the honor of a lifetime to serve alongside them. as doctor kahl just explained the bredth and depth of the operation was unparalleled. these are among the most challenging missions a military can undertake. they occur with little notice and are often within tenuous security environments. the department recognized that
1:27 pm
in neo can be the most dangerous course of agency and with the interagency we planned for this contingency. this preplanning allowed the department to respond quickly to the department of state's neo-declaration, deploying a force package of nearly 6,000 personnel within days. this neo element executed the largest humanitarian airlift operation ever taken. i don't know an event that better demonstrates the willingness to sacrifice self so others may enjoy the freedoms and opportunities others would die to defend. unfortunately, 13 service members did pay their ultimate sacrifice and they will be regarded as heroes forever. americans were not the only heroes lost over the course of the 20-year campaign. nato allies and partners, and especially afghan civilians began with the initial invasion.
1:28 pm
countless afghans lost their lives trying to help the united states navigate afghanistan's difficult human and physical terrain and countless more afghan national defense and security forces were lost serving alongside u.s. service members. unfortunately, we lost 10 more afghan civilians leading up to our departure during a precision strike we employed to target isis-k. as dr. kahl explained, we are committed to the ongoing investigation and to supporting the family members of those lors. we also understand -- lost. we also understand how this strike may cause the committee to question the over-the-horizon mission now we no longer have a physical footprint in afghanistan. i look forward to discussing these issues with you today. furthermore, the ndcf will be a case study the department will pour over in the ensuing years. we will analyze our development and their ultimate disillusion to determine how to chart better paths for our partners in the future. while we cannot and we will never be able to instill the
1:29 pm
will to fight, we can and will take the opportunity to better understand those intangible factors that so significantly affect our mission and our nation's interests. our work did not end on 31 august. the interagency effort to quickly house, transport, vaccinate the evacuee population is a herculean effort. one that would be more difficult without our partners, allies, n.g.o.'s. we will continue to support the interagency as they work to relocate u.s. citizens, lawful permanent residents and afghans to whom we hold special commitments, clugs s.i.v. -- including s.i.v. holders who are in afghanistan and express a desire to leave. despite the afghan withdrawal and evacuation, the department remains focused on counterthreats to the homeland. we are actively setting the conditions to ensure we remain situationally aware and are postured to mitigate and
1:30 pm
neutralize developing terrorist threats and streams. dr. kahl and i look forward to answering your questions today as we work together for the benefit of our country. thank you, again, for your time and your support. chairman reed: thank you very much, general, and mr. secretary. for both the secretary and general mingus, when general milley was here, retestified that although al qaeda and -- testified that although al qaeda was degraded within the past 20 years, there may be a resurgence in the international terrorism emanating within the region in 12 to 36 months. do you concur with that assessment, dr. kahl? secretary kahl: i think the assessment depends on which group we're talking about. i think the intelligence
1:31 pm
community currently assesses that both isis-kifrmd and al qaeda -- isis-k and al qaeda can have operations against the united states but neither currently have the capability to do so. we could see isis-k generate that capability somewhere between six or 12 months. if the current assessments by the intelligence community is al qaeda would take a year or two to reconstitute that capability. we must remain vigilant against that possibility. chairman reed: do you concur, general mingus? general mingus: yes. the chairman's assessment, i concur with that. chairman reed: our over-the-horizon situation will not give us the same picture
1:32 pm
we've got now. the range will be greater. the resources will be greater. the risks will all be greater. do you all assess at this time that despite these increased risks that would disrupt terrorist activities emanating in the region? general mingus: sorry. the last half of the question. chairman reed: despite these increased risks we all recognize, do you believe were posturd at this time to disrupt terrorists in the region and adapting so we can consistently disrupt these activities? general mingus: sir, as you know, the chairman and secretary both briefed and so did general mckenzie the over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability we have in place right now. dr. kahl and i will go into more detail during the closed session. as you know we have a command and control architecture set up in the gulf. we're able to project assets from the gulf. we're able to collect across all
1:33 pm
the sources of intelligence. fuse that and continue to analyze. if necessary, take action in afghanistan. as general mckenzie and the chairman both indicated, it is harder, but we believe we have the assets in place right now if necessary to disrupt and/or degrade the terrorist networks in afghanistan. chairman reed: thank you. secretary kahl, some have suggested the administration should have started evacuating people from afghanistan sooner. was it the administration's assessment that doing so would have hastened the fall of kabul by suggesting that the united states did not have confidence in the government? and did we in fact give assurances to president ghani that we would maintain a presence and not signal our lack of confidence? secretary kahl: so, senator, the goal during the retrograde was to assist the afghan government,
1:34 pm
not undermine them. and there was concern if you accelerated evacuations to include of large numbers of afghans that it would create a self-fulfilling prophecy of a collapse of the afghan government. it's something that president ghani raised as a chief concern. we did bring out more than 1,000 s.i.v.'s prior to the neo, but there was a concern that a mass exodus could undermine the government. chairman reed: thank you. finally, dr. kahl, can you give us updates with respect to our arrangement with pakistan regarding their cooperation with us in counterterrorism? there have been press reports recently they're working with the taliban to attack isis-k, which is an enemy of both. but can you give us further assessment? secretary kahl: so pakistan is a challenging actor but they don't want afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist attacks,
1:35 pm
external attacks, not just against pakistan but against others. they continue to give us access to pakistani airspace and we're in conversations about keeping that airspace open and happy to talk about that more in the closed session. but for right now, the counterterrorism cooperation with pakistan is pretty good. chairman reed: thank you very much. senator inhofe, please. senator inhofe: thank you, mr. chairman. one of the many confusing things about this whole thing is that we really don't know how many americans were left in afghanistan. the administration's number of u.s. citizens left in afghanistan keeps changing. we all understand that and it's very confusing. the administration always said 100 to 200 u.s. citizens left in afghanistan. has already withdrawn 234. and is in contact with 363
1:36 pm
others. 176 of whom want to leave. i'm speaking slowly because i'm trying to put this together at the same time. the administration, by its own count, left 600 americans behind. over 400 of whom want to leave, not the 100 to 200 that has been referred to several times. there are still thousands of americans unaccounted for based on secretary blinken's earlier claim that there were 10,000 to 15,000. mid-august, secretary of state blinken tells senators -- we were all there -- that so,000 to 15 -- 10,000 to 15,000 americans were in afghanistan. on the 31st of august, the administration claims it withdrew 6,000. do the math as we're saying this. it withdrew 6,000 americans from
1:37 pm
afghanistan. now, this would mean somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 americans were left behind. the administration says 100 to 200 are remaining. in october, the administration stated that 234 americans have been evacuated since january -- since the 31st of august. the state department says in contact -- that says it's in contact with 363 more americans in afghanistan, 176 of whom want to leave. now, if we can figure this out, you're doing a lot better than i have done and i've made a real effort to go down and document everything that's in there. so at the very least, it's confusing. during the august 18 interview with -- on abc, george
1:38 pm
stephanopoulos asked president biden whether troops would stay beyond august 31 if there were still americans to evacuate. president biden responded, quote -- and this is a quote -- if there are american citizens left, we are going to stay to get them out. of course, this didn't happen. secretary kahl, i'd ask you the question -- when did you realize that the united states would not be able to get all the u.s. citizens out of afghanistan by august 31, and did you present your leadership any options for extending that self-imposed deadline to ensure our people were out of harm's way at that time? secretary kahl: well, as a first matter, nobody was abandoned. we continue to get people out of afghanistan, including american
1:39 pm
citizens. senator, if you'd like i'd like to give you the latest numbers. senator inhofe: i've given you the latest numbers. maybe there are later numbers than i just read earlier. are there? secretary kahl: i can give you some fidelity on the numbers. senator inhofe: i'll agree with that. secretary kahl: the numbers were 6,000 americans during the neo. we estimated we evacuated about 5,500. since the end of the neo, so since september 1, the state department documented 240 american citizens who departed afghanistan since september 1, and 157 green card holders. when you account for additional individuals who did not -- were not arranged for travel outside of afghanistan by the u.s. government but came out through other private charters, d.o.d.'s
1:40 pm
numbers total out to 314 and 236 l.p.s. totals since the end of the neo. in terms of americans that are currently in afghanistan, the department of state is in contact with 196 american citizens who are ready to depart and arrangements are being made for them to do so. either via air or over ground. another 243 american citizens have been contacted and are not ready to depart, either because they want to stay in afghanistan or aren't ready. senator inhofe: the question i asked -- did you present your leadership any options for extending that self-imposed deadline to ensure our people were out of harm's way? if it wasn't you, who would it be? secretary kahl: it was the consensus of civilian and leadership at the department of
1:41 pm
defense we should stick to the august 31 deadline. extending beyond that would cause a risk to mission and force and make it harder for american citizens to get out beyond that date. senator inhofe: the same military leadership that insisted we leave troops down there at the time we evacuated? secretary kahl: that's correct. senator inhofe: thank you, mr. chairman. chairman reed: thank you very much, senator inhofe. senator shaheen, please. senator shaheen: thank you, both, for being here this morning and for your efforts to support the evacuation in afghanistan. i want to start by recognizing, as both of you did, the tremendous service of our men and women in the military who made possible that evacuation and continue to support afghan refugees. i was proud that 11 members of the new hampshire national guard volunteered to go to joint base maguire as part of operations allies refuge and believe they represent what we've seen across our armed forces.
1:42 pm
we have also heard in our office from a number of those men and women who served in afghanistan who continue to be concerned about people they served with, afghans they served with during their time there who are still in afghanistan, whose lives are being threatened by the taliban because of their service with the united states. and so general mingus, you referenced those s.i.v. applicants. i wonder if you can tell me what we continue to do to try and ensure that those outside the applicants and those who have received special immigrant visas already are going to be evacuated out of afghanistan or either to the united states or somewhere else where they will be safe? general mingus: thank you, senator. as you know, the state
1:43 pm
department established a program underneath jones and there is a group that solely focuses on the additional folks coming out of afghanistan. they are working with 52 special interest groups that dr. kahl's office and the joint staff are part of. we meet with those groups twice a week because they have knowledge and of -- knowledge of those that are at risk. as the state department works the documentation, there is generally a flight or two a week that brings out not just american citizens and leem permanent residence -- legal permanent residential but afghans. senator shaheen: do you know the number, secretary kahl, do you know that number of s.i.v.'s? secretary kahl: the total number of s.i.v.'s is 28,000 of which
1:44 pm
8,855 have come out with their family members. so that was just there's a significant number of s.i.v.'s still in afghanistan. and senator, i share your concern. and we will work to try to get them out and hold the taliban to their pledge with safe passage of people with documents, which should include s.i.v.'s. senator shaheen: i'm sure you are aware that one of the challenges is getting the documents that they confirmed they worked alongside our military. and one of the challenges has been that d.o.d. has not provided documents in many cases. and so what are we doing to reform that issue for not just for the current s.i.v. applicants but for future? secretary kahl: as this committee is aware, the s.i.v. process was not designed for an emergency. it is a slow. typically it took a year or two. nothing was done in the previous administration to speed it up. nothing was done to bring people
1:45 pm
out of afghanistan after the doha agreement. the state department took steps to shrink the time to about eight months. it's way too long. the department of defense created an enormous database and was refined that data over time to try to speed up the confirmation of employment. the d.o.d. itself doesn't provide the documents. the visas. it comes through the state department. in some cases they provided physical visas of those that are in afghanistan. in other cases there are electronic documents that are transmitted because obviously our embassy is not in afghanistan anymore. senator shaheen: well, senator ernst and i worked on legislation that passed the congress to try to speed up that process. but if there are other changes that need to be made, i hope you'll share that with the committee so we can continue to try to ensure that we don't have bureaucratic impediments to getting people out of the country. my other question, because of my time is short, has to do with
1:46 pm
the status of isis-k in afghanistan and we've seen a number of increased attacks in afghanistan. is it our assessment that the afghan -- that the taliban has the capacity to defeat isis-k in the country? secretary kahl: i think it's our assessment that the taliban and isis-k are mortal enemies. the taliban is highly motivated to go after isis-k. their ability to do so i think is to be determined. senator shaheen: do you share that, general mingus? general mingus: i do, ma'am. senator shaheen: thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. chairman reed: thank you, senator shaheen. senator wicker, please. senator wicker: thank you, mr. chairman. i first of all have a statement. the undersecretary in his prepared remarks on page 3 talks about the work of the department is far from over. we're examining and learning from the past, reckoning with the uncomfortable truth that
1:47 pm
despite decades and billions of dollars of u.s. investment, the afghan military evaporated in the face of the taliban assault. let me just remind everyone that for the past six or seven years before the debacle in kabul, the afghan military took almost all of the casualties and fatalities and fought bravely on behalf of their country. and general mingus, i appreciate the fact that you've been deployed a number of times and have served in dangerous situations, but on the final page of your written statement, you talk about the andsf, afghan national defense forces, you say there will be a case study for the department in ensuing years.
1:48 pm
there will be a case study for historians in the coming years. and you make this statement, while we cannot and we'll never be able to instill the will to fight, we can and will take the opportunity to better understand and so forth. may i suggest that both of those statements are unworthy of the secretary of defense for policy of this administration or of the director of operations for the joint staff. and in fact, it was a decision by this administration to pull support for the afghan national defense forces that led to the debacle, and to suggest this armed -- this group of armed forces, supported by the united states, but populated almost entirely by afghan soldiers was
1:49 pm
unwilling to fight or evaporated in the face of combat is a shameful and unworthy statement. now, mr. secretary, on august 10, the white house said that president biden believed it's not inevitable that the taliban takes over kabul or the country -- and i'm quoting directly. five days later we abandoned the embassy in kabul. do you think it sent a signal to the afghan national defense forces that we were out of there and they could not depend on us anymore? and was that part of the -- was the abandonment of the embassy part of the troop withdrawal plans? secretary kahl: it was not part of the plan. the embassy was evacuated once
1:50 pm
the andsf collapsed. starting on our about august 11 you saw the taliban entering kabul. it evaporated. president ghani left the country on the 15th and we moved our diplomats to the airport. senator wicker: general mingus, two took the vast majority of the casualties in combat from, say, 2014 to the abandonment of kabul? general mingus: the afghan national security forces. senator wicker: do you think it's fair they suggest we cannot instill the will to fight, is that a fair statement, general? general mingus: i agree how the secretary and -- when we talked about this very topic during their testimony. the leadership and will to fight when we pulled off at the tactical level from an advisory
1:51 pm
perspective several years ago, our visibility in terms of the condition of the afghan national security forces became less and less. what i would offer, based on my experience, is i have fought alongside the afghans and there is no issue with their will to fight. i think the follow-on we will need to study as part of history is the will to fight for what. and that, i think, is the fundamental question, i.e., did they have the will to fight in afghanistan against other afghans? and that's the part i think we will have to determine going forward. senator wicker: thank you, mr. chairman. chairman reed: thank you very much, senator wicker. now hirono. -- now senator hirono. ms. hirono: secretary kahl, did i hear you say that isis-k and the taliban is developing the
1:52 pm
capability to attack the u.s. within two years? secretary kahl: i said the intelligence community's assessment is isis-k could potentially develop a capability within six to 12 months and al qaeda could develop that capability within one to two years but it's precisely that threat we need to remain vigilant. senator hi rone oi are -- senator hirono: how do we know when they have the capability to do so? secretary kahl: we know they have the intention to do so. i think the committee had the opportunity to hear from the intelligence community in a classified setting not too long ago, and we can follow up in the closed session, but we have considerable evidence that they have the intent. the question at the moment is the capability. senator hirono: well, we just said they will -- you just said they could have the capability within two years? secretary kahl: yes. senator hirono: since they have the intent and develop the capability, i don't know if it's in the closed session to tell us
1:53 pm
what we're doing to defend against the combination of both the capability and the will to attack. i have an ongoing concern shared by others on this committee about how the taliban are treating women and girls in afghanistan, given their brutal history. this is for you, secretary kahl. what is your understanding of the conditions on the ground for women and girls in afghanistan under taliban rule following our withdrawal. what is your assessment of our ability, along with the international community to effectively provide aid directly to these vulnerable groups under taliban control? i have other questions. are there ongoing operations to assist permanent female afghan leaders who are at risk of retribution from the taliban? i joined senators shaheen and collins in asking president biden to appoint an ambassador
1:54 pm
at large of global women issues to protect women and girls' rights in afghanistan. i think that position is needed more than ever. to your knowledge, has anyone been nominated to fill this spot? can you respond to my series of questions? secretary kahl: i'm happy to. so as it relates to the situation on the ground in afghanistan, i think we all have to be a little humble that the reports are largely antidotal, not systematic. but the conditions are not good. the taliban are a ruthless authoritarian band. they promise an inclusive government. they did not do that. women and girls are having a hard time going to school. we have not seen evidence yet of widespread reprisals but it doesn't mean it's happening. it's that we have not seen evidence yet. there are violence levels and human rights abuses to include against women and girls. i think that the international community has some leverage points with the new taliban government. taliban government wants recognition. they should not get that recognition unless they are a
1:55 pm
very different government than the one they are now. they have profound economic needs. that provides some leverage. we should continue to provide humanitarian assistance, not to the government, but around the government to at-risk populations. as it relates to the state department's position on women and girls, i don't have any information on that. i would ask -- i would defer that to the state department. senator hirono: i know the international community has come forward with literally billions of dollars in aid that are -- that's supposed to go directly to nongovernmental entities, but my understanding is that they have to work with the taliban in order to make sure that they give to the people that they are providing the aid to. how much of the aid of the international community, including the united states, is providing -- well, actually get to these organizations and out of the taliban's hands? do you have some sense of that? secretary kahl: so obviously that falls more in the writ of
1:56 pm
the usaid and i would defer that -- on specifics to them. but my understanding from my usaid colleagues is that -- and from our u.s. u.n. colleagues that n.g.o.'s and others are able to operate around the taliban government to provide aid directly but it's harder. senator hirono: we know that there are still a number of people seeking s.i.v. status. what agency is leading that effort to enable that they document -- that documentation is necessary for these applicants to get that status and then to leave afghanistan? secretary kahl: so the state department is in the lead for the s.i.v. issue. to the degree they need assistance from the department of defense to verify employment, we set up a project called project rabbit to streamline the data and make sure we can make that process as efficient as possible. senator hirono: thank you, mr. chairman. chairman reed: thank you, senator hirono. senator fischer, please.
1:57 pm
senator fischer: last month generals milley and mckenzie both testified on the challenges of conducting over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes against targets in afghanistan. unlike other places in the world, where we conduct over-the-horizon c.t. operations, afghanistan is land locked. we have no reliable partners on the ground, and we don't have any agreements with neighboring countries. secretary kahl, in the months since secretary austin, general milley, and general mckenzie testified, have we secured any basing agreements or arrangements with any country bordering afghanistan? secretary kahl: we have not secured firm basing arrangements. we have had extensive conversations. senator fischer: since president biden made the decision to withdraw in april, he's touted over-the-horizon c.t. operations as our strategy going forward. can you share with the committee any tangible steps the
1:58 pm
administration has made in trying to secure basing agreements with those countries, and keep it short, please, i have a number of questions. secretary kahl: sure. we've rainingments already in the gulf, as you -- we've rainingments already in the gulf, as you know. we have conversations with pakistan to keep the lines open. we have conversations with oou beck stan and -- uzbekistan and at that jeek stan which we can talk about in the closed session. senator fischer: general mingus, with the taliban in control of the afghan government and absence of reliable on-the-ground partners, is it more challenging or less challenging to collect intelligence on isis-k and al qaeda in afghanistan? and that's particularly looking at the intelligence that's needed to identify and also to locate targets for counterterrorism operations. general mingus: yes, ma'am, it's a fair characterization.
1:59 pm
it's more challenging to collect. in the closed session we'll lay out the percentages, specialties in terms of what that degradation looks like. senator fischer: thank you. secretary kahl, prior to august, were you aware of reports of extremely low morale among afghan forces or of reports they have not been paid in months? secretary kahl: broadly aware but i think our visibility onto the exact conditions was highly degraded. senator fischer: were you concerned in june when the taliban took control of 21 districts across nine provinces over the course of four days, most of them without a single shot being fired? secretary kahl: yes. senator fischer: at this point or any other point prior to august 14, did you question any intelligence community's assessment of the afghanistan government that it would remain weeks to months to years following our departure?
2:00 pm
that's a quote. secretary kahl: i engage my intelligence colleagues. as you know the estimate shifted from one to two years to months to years and then weeks to months and then days to weeks. senator fischer: i think this disconnect between the reality on the ground and what the biden administration assessed would happen with respect to the collapse of the afghan security forces is deeply troubling. it was not just that our predictions were overtaken by events, some of the underlying assumptions upon which the analysis were based were very flawed. mr. mr. secretary, how can you assure us that the reality on the ground and the biden administration's analysis of how long it's going to take al qaeda or isis-k to gain access to the united states and as six months when our homeland would be in
2:01 pm
extreme danger. those numbers were given to us several months ago, will we hear an update in the classified? secretary kahl: i think there were a number of our colleagues will provide an update. we should all be humbled that we know less about afghanistan than we thought we did. our forces decline and we pulled off security forces so we had less feel for what's going on. senator fischer: would you agree with yen mckenzie's testimony then, that, quote the war on terrorism is not over and the war in afghanistan is not over either? secretary kahl: there are threats all over. senator fischer: specifically to my question is on afghanistan that war is not over either? secretary kahl: i think the war as we know it isn't continuing
2:02 pm
but the terrorist threat continues. senator fischer: do you agree the outcome of the war was a strategic fail krur? secretary kahl: i think the goal was accomplished. senator fischer: do you think the biden administration brarys sponsbility for the war or the taliban being in charge now? secretary kahl: i think what we saw happen would have happened whenever we left afghanistan. >> senator king. senator king: i feel like we're in a time warp where history started on january 20, 2021, when in fact history started on february 29, 2020, when the doha agreement was signed. i read it probably 10 times, i'm
2:03 pm
a country lawyer, but it's not conditions based. it guarantees that we will withdraw from afghanistan in a certain number of months, a certain number of days, it even sets the day. it does talk about that the taliban guarantees that al qaeda won't have safe hav we know thal the case. it does talk about negotiations between the taliban and the afghan government but that does not appear to be a condition of our withdrawal. the decision to leave afghanistan was made by the former administration in february of 2020. the question before the -- before president bide p was, do you abide by that agreement or abrogate it and we're talking now about the consequence of abiding by it but let's talk about the consequence of abrogating it. general, what would have happened had the president said
2:04 pm
in april of 2021, we decided not to withdraw our troops from afghanistan but to maintain our presence there? what would have been the result >> it is my belief that attacks from the taliban, the one conditioned in the doha agreement that they did generally adhere to would have reseurmd.
2:05 pm
one that the consensus, the taliban would have been fee to attack us because of the abrogation of the agreement but also the terrorist threat which we saw play itself out at the airport? >> that isorrect, senator. the consensus amongst the joint chief, this ecommanders on the ground that staying past # 1 august, attacks would have resumed and the ability to get additional american citizens and legal permanent residents would have -- the risk for that would have gone up higher than if we'd
2:06 pm
departed as we did. senator king: i don't know if it's an agreement, or implicit understanding, that they let these americans out and in fact they have been letting s.i.v.'s out is that correct? >> that is correct, senator. it has not been without challenge but they continue, those that are properly documented they've continued to let them depart in the numbers as dr. kahl briefed earlier. senator king: mr. kahl, what's your assessment, would 2,500 have been enough if the taliban had resumed attacks on americans in the country over the course of 2021? secretary kahl: two points weighed heavily on the president. one was in the exchange you just had with the general, would we
2:07 pm
have come under attack and would the president have faced pressure to send in reinforcements. the other thing that gets less attention but i know the president considered, us staying at 2,500 wasn't a stalemate. the afghans were losing. the president would have faced pressure to escalate like barack obama did at the beginning of his administration when the afghan were losing and like president trump did at the beginning of his administration. the president didn't believe the 2,500 was a stable equilibrium. if we had quept at that level he would have been under pressure to put in more. senator king: thank you. i like senator duckworth's po posal that we have a commission to examine. this i think this is our sixth hearing on afghanistan in
2:08 pm
several month, i've had three or four in the intelligence che. we had zero hearings i can recall on the doha agreement which was really the heart of the departure from afghanistan so the umbrage and outrage that's happened since this summer rings a little hollow for me because there was no umbrage or outrage when the former administration made an agreement with the taliban, unconditional, really, essentially, to get our troops out by a certain date which was may 1 of 2021, not august 31. so with that, i yield. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for being here today as we continue to examine the repercussions of president biden's disastrous withdrawal from afghanistan.
2:09 pm
and the aban conditionment of american citizens to the taliban. sit true the president said we wouldn't leave americans behind. secretary kahl: we have not left americans behind, they continue to get out. >> we left americans behind. secretary kahl: we did not leave them behind, americans continue to get out. >> did the d.o.d. -- the d.o.d. -- general, did the d.o.d., did our soldiers leave before all americans were out? >> yes, ma'am, the last airplane left the evening of the 30th, morning of the 31st of august. >> thank you for your straightforward answer, general. dr. kahl is there more or less risk of terror attacks against americans and american interests because of the precipitous withdrawal of american military capability for from the region?
2:10 pm
secretary kahl: the intelligence community assesses that the terrorist risk in the homeland is the lowest it's been. >> that does not sound like low risk. when you have just told us that the possibility the possibility of attacks on isis-k to the homeland could be six to 12 months. secretary kahl: the intelligence community assesses they could build that capability. we need to be vigilant. >> that doesn't sound low risk. what threat adecemberments did you use for planning the environment after the u.s. withdrawal? what assessments? secretary kahl: when i came into office the decision had been made. i was overseeing from a civilian
2:11 pm
perspective retrograde operations. >> yes, i understand, you informed me last time in a closed session you were busy sitting on the couch, you weren't apaying attention to the assessments which i disagreed with because i believe in a position such azure yours you should be keeping up with various assessments especially as we're pulling out our military troops leaving -- >> we will leave this briefing here to take you live now to capitol hill for the weekly briefing with house speaker nancy pelosi. ms. pelosi: thank you for accommodating the excitement we had this morning with the visit of the president of the united states. the president has a big vision for america and came to present us with the framework. he spoke about building back better, i said over and over again the provisions in the bill are about children learning and parents earning.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on