During a heated Senate hearing, Gen. Mark Milley besides defended his actions successful the last months of the Trump administration.
Sept. 28, 2021, 8:07 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaders publically acknowledged connected Tuesday that they advised President Biden not to retreat each troops from Afghanistan up of a chaotic evacuation successful which 13 U.S. work members died successful a termination bombing and 10 Afghan civilians were killed successful an American drone strike.
During an expansive Senate proceeding connected the warfare successful Afghanistan, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, besides defended his actions successful the tumultuous past months of the Trump administration, insisting that calls to his Chinese counterpart and a gathering successful which helium told generals to alert him if the president tried to motorboat a atomic limb were portion of his duties arsenic the country’s apical subject officer.
General Milley was adamant that helium did not spell astir his erstwhile boss. “My loyalty to this nation, its people, and the Constitution hasn’t changed and volition ne'er alteration arsenic agelong arsenic I person a enactment to give,” helium said. “I firmly judge successful civilian power of the subject arsenic a bedrock rule indispensable to this republic and I americium committed to ensuring the subject stays wide of home politics.”
Some six hours of nationalist grounds from elder Pentagon leaders were astatine times acrimonious and astatine times verging connected governmental theater. Republican senators who had successful the past defended President Donald J. Trump’s tendency to retreat American troops from Afghanistan demanded resignations from subject leaders who carried retired a Democratic president’s orders to withdraw. Democrats, who are traditionally tougher connected subject leaders, connected this occasion, provided solace successful the signifier of softer questioning and traced flaws backmost to the Trump administration.
Under repeated questioning from Republican senators, the Pentagon leaders broke with parts of Mr. Biden’s defence of the pullout, acknowledging that they had recommended leaving 2,500 American troops connected the ground, and had warned that the Afghan authorities and service could illness arsenic aboriginal arsenic the autumn if the United States withdrew its forces.
General Milley called the “noncombatant evacuation” successful Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, past period “a logistical occurrence but a strategical failure,” echoing the words of Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, from earlier successful the hearing.
Through it all, the burly and brash General Milley, the astir elder subject authoritative successful the country, sat earlier the Senate Armed Services Committee arsenic some the protagonist and the antagonist for a communicative that changed with each senator. The different 2 subject leaders invited to the proceeding — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and the Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the caput of the military’s Central Command — seemed astir similar supporting actors astatine times, arsenic the bulk of the questioning went to General Milley, who has precocious been astatine the halfway of governmental turmoil related to revelations successful respective books astir the Trump presidency.
General Milley said that subject leaders were capable to springiness their proposal to Mr. Biden successful the lead-up to the president’s April determination to withdraw. Those views, the wide said, had not changed since November, erstwhile helium recommended that Mr. Trump support American troops successful Afghanistan.
But, the wide added, “Decision makers are not required, successful immoderate manner, signifier oregon form, to travel that advice.”
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, asked General Milley wherefore helium did not resign aft Mr. Biden rejected his proposal to support troops successful Afghanistan.
“This state doesn’t privation generals figuring retired what orders we’re going to judge and bash oregon not. That’s not our job,” the wide replied. He aboriginal added, “My dada didn’t get a prime to resign astatine Iwo Jima and those kids determination astatine Abbey Gate, they don’t get a prime to resign,” the second a notation to the American troops who were stationed astatine Hamid Karzai International Airport successful Kabul successful August.
“They can’t resign, truthful I’m not going to resign,” helium said. “There’s nary way. If the orders are illegal, we’re successful a antithetic place. But if the orders are ineligible from the civilian authority, I mean to transportation them out.”
General Milley’s grounds connected Tuesday was different section successful the communicative of the last chaotic days of the Trump administration, with authorities officials connected borderline arsenic they disquieted astir what actions Mr. Trump mightiness take. On Wednesday, Mr. Austin and Generals Milley and McKenzie are acceptable to attest earlier the House Armed Services Committee.
Several Republican senators took General Milley to task some for his actions arsenic described successful the publication “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post, and for talking astir those actions to the authors.
General Milley said helium was directed by Mark T. Esper, past the caput of defense, to telephone his Chinese counterpart connected Oct. 30 due to the fact that determination was “intelligence which caused america to judge the Chinese were disquieted astir an onslaught connected them by the United States.” He added that different elder U.S. officials, including Mike Pompeo, past the caput of state, were alert of the calls.
“I know, I americium definite that President Trump did not mean to onslaught the Chinese, and it was my directed work by the caput to convey that intent to the Chinese,” helium said. “My task astatine that clip was to de-escalate. My connection again was consistent: enactment calm, dependable and de-escalate. We are not going to onslaught you.”
In an unintentionally comic interchange with Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, General Milley acknowledged that helium spoke with respective authors who person precocious written books astir the last months of the Trump presidency. All of the books contiguous the general’s actions to support Mr. Trump successful cheque successful a favorable light.
“Woodward yes, Costa no,” General Milley replied, erstwhile asked if helium had spoken to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Costa for their book.
The wide said helium had not work immoderate of the books. At that, Ms. Blackburn asked him to work them and study backmost astir whether they accurately portrayed his actions.
General Milley besides addressed a frantic telephone telephone with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California 2 days aft the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A transcript of the telephone successful the publication said the wide agreed with Ms. Pelosi’s characterization of Mr. Trump arsenic “crazy.”
Speaking to the Senate panel, General Milley said, “On 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called maine to inquire astir the president’s quality to motorboat atomic weapons. I sought to guarantee her that atomic motorboat is governed by a precise circumstantial and deliberate process. She was acrophobic and made assorted idiosyncratic references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole atomic motorboat authority, and helium doesn’t motorboat them alone, and that I americium not qualified to find the intelligence wellness of the president of the United States.”
Later that afternoon, helium said, helium called the generals progressive successful that process to “refresh connected these procedures.”
Democrats, similar Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, asked whether leaving troops successful Afghanistan for different twelvemonth would person made a difference. Mr. Austin said no.
Understand the Taliban Takeover successful Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose successful 1994 amid the turmoil that came aft the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan successful 1989. They utilized brutal nationalist punishments, including floggings, amputations and wide executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s much connected their root communicative and their grounds arsenic rulers.
Senators pressed the 3 men connected wherefore the Pentagon failed to foretell the accelerated illness of the Afghan authorities and Afghan military, wherefore the United States did not commencement evacuating Americans and susceptible Afghans sooner, and what the Pentagon was doing present to assistance evacuate the remaining Americans and Afghans who privation to permission the country.
Mr. Austin, a retired four-star Army wide who served successful Afghanistan, conceded that the illness of the Afghan service successful the last weeks of the warfare — successful galore cases without the Taliban firing a changeable — amazed apical commanders.
“We request to see immoderate uncomfortable truths: that we did not afloat comprehend the extent of corruption and mediocre enactment successful their elder ranks, that we didn’t grasp the damaging effect of predominant and unexplained rotations by President Ghani of his commanders, that we did not expect the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commanders struck with section leaders,” Mr. Austin said, referring to Ashraf Ghani, the erstwhile president of Afghanistan who fled the country arsenic the Taliban took control.
“We failed to afloat grasp that determination was lone truthful overmuch for which — and for whom — galore of the Afghan forces would fight,” Mr. Austin said.
In his opening remarks and passim the hearing, Mr. Austin defended the Biden administration’s decisions to adjacent the sprawling Bagram Air Base, the military’s main hub successful Afghanistan, successful aboriginal July, and to people resources toward defending Kabul’s planetary airdrome arsenic the main gateway successful and retired of the country. He acknowledged that the Pentagon severely misjudged the Afghan military’s volition to fight.
“Retaining Bagram would person required putting arsenic galore arsenic 5,000 U.S. troops successful harm’s way, conscionable to run and support it,” Mr. Austin said. “And it would person contributed small to the ngo that we had been assigned — and that was to support and support the embassy, which was immoderate 30 miles away.”
Republicans said the unit withdrawal would let Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to rebuild and usage Afghanistan arsenic a launching pad for aboriginal attacks against Americans and the U.S. homeland.
General McKenzie expressed reservations astir whether the United States could artifact the violent groups from processing that benignant of harmless haven present that American troops had near the country.
“That’s yet to beryllium seen,” General McKenzie said successful effect to a question. “We could get to that point, but I bash not yet person that level of confidence.”
Mr. Biden has vowed to forestall Al Qaeda and the Islamic State from rebuilding to the constituent wherever they could onslaught Americans oregon the United States.
But General McKenzie’s effect underscored however hard that task volition beryllium and was somewhat much pessimistic than the assessments of different apical Pentagon officials astatine the hearing.
General Milley said that a “reconstituted Al Qaeda oregon ISIS with aspirations to onslaught the United States is simply a precise existent possibility.” He added: “And those conditions, to see enactment successful ungoverned spaces, could contiguous themselves successful the adjacent 12 to 36 months.”