WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley prepare for a barbecue this week as Pentagon leaders prepare to testify before Congress.
Representatives and senators plan to question them about last month’s bloody exit from Afghanistan and a new book Milley said China called for tensions surrounding the 2020 election to be calm.
Republicans and many Democrats have criticized President Joe Biden for his handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the parties have split over Milley’s reported appeal to China in which Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa wrote that Milley had the Chinese general Li Zuocheng communicated that the United States had no intention of attacking.
A number of Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, have said that if the book is correct, they consider Milley’s appeals “treasonous.” Rubio asked him to resign. But Biden replied that he is still confident of the general, who has also told reporters that his calls are on record.
U.S. Central Commander General Kenneth McKenzie, who oversaw U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will join them when they appear before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Tuesday and the House of Representatives’s Armed Forces Committee on Wednesday.
In a September 23 letter to Austin, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Senate body, requested a long list of records, intelligence reports, and summaries of Pentagon documents on Afghanistan, the hasty withdrawal of which fell behind U.S. citizens and last month Afghan allies and exposed US soldiers and Afghans to a terrorist attack that killed 13 Americans and dozen of Afghans.
Inhofe wants to give an account of how many people the military evacuated from the country and what military equipment was left behind. He set a deadline of October 8 for the information.
On September 22, five Republican senators on the committee, Josh Hawley from Missouri, Tom Cotton from Arkansas, Kevin Cramer from North Dakota, Rick Scott from Florida, and Tommy Tuberville from Alabama, wrote to the chairman, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island: him to ask them to give them extra time to interview the Pentagon Witnesses.
“The American people want to know how the government – including the Department of Defense – did not prepare for the collapse of the Afghan armed forces and was taken by surprise by the last advance of the Taliban,” they wrote, referring to the rapid takeover of the country as Islamist militants overrun a US-backed government.
However, Republicans have tried to weigh how much they criticize the U.S. military compared to Biden. Inhofe, for example, primarily blamed Biden for ignoring the Pentagon’s concerns about a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Let’s get one thing straight now,” he tweeted on Sept. 23. “What happened in Afghanistan in the last few months wasn’t a failure of our military – it was a failure of our Commander-in-Chief.”
While the Republican question is sure to be more snappy, the Democrats will also ask Austin and Milley specific questions about Afghanistan.
The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2022 contained bipartisan provisions calling for an explanation for the botched withdrawal, suggesting that both parties are dissatisfied with the way the administration is handled.