Those hearings, which began on Tuesday in the Senate, continue today before the House Armed Services Committee. Yesterday, three military leaders – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, and Central Command head General Frank McKenzie – responded to questions about the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ordered by President Biden.
During questioning, Milley described the mission as a "strategic failure" and said he believes the U.S. should have kept several thousand troops in the country to prevent the Taliban takeover that happened faster than forecast.
McKenzie shared Milley's view that keeping a residual force there could have kept the Kabul government intact:
"I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended early in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time, those were my personal views. I also had a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and eventually the Afghan government."
AFN spoke with Bob Maginnis, senior fellow for national security at Washington, DC-based Family Research Council. He says "the big takeaway" is that the president acted alone.
"… Without a doubt, Mr. Biden made the decision not to leave any troops [and] he made the decision to set the date – and this appears to be quite contrary to the commander on the ground, General McKenzie at CENTCOM, [and to] the chairman of the Joint Chiefs as well as Secretary Austin," says Maginnis.
"… All of them, it would appear, made contrary recommendations; and Mr. Biden allegedly listened to them and then decided – evidently for political reasons – to do precisely what he did … and that is to be the host for a debacle that ended up costing a lot of lives."
Among those deaths were the 13 U.S. service members killed by a suicide bomber at Kabul airport in late August – just days before the Biden-imposed deadline for a pullout. They were the first U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in 18 months.
Maginnis contends the botched withdrawal is "going to spur more terrorism" – a prediction backed up by some statements senators heard on Tuesday.
"They asked General McKenzie whether or not the war on terror is over and he said Of course not! There are plenty of terrorists there," notes the FRC fellow. "They even got around to talking about the open southern border and how it would be easy to get into this country to take advantage of us."
And that, Maginnis concluded, "should be pretty sobering to anyone."
Milley's judgment questioned
During Tuesday's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) called for the resignation of Generals Austin and Milley over the botched troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Missouri lawmaker and other GOP senators grilled Milley about his conversation with Bob Woodward and other authors writing books critical of the Trump presidency.
Maginnis also question's Milley's judgment. "The idea that he would talk with Woodward while he's still in uniform at the Pentagon, I think, really [brings] his judgment [into question]," Maginnis remarks.
"I can see if he's talking about contemporary operations and providing context – but to reflect back months prior about things in a previous administration?"
As for the call for Milley's resignation, the FRC fellow points out the general's testimony that all he is an advisor to the president, not a decision-maker – and therefore sees no need to resign.
"Aand Austin … and McKenzie said much the same," he continues. "They all felt as if they got an honest hearing from Biden – but ultimately it's clear that Biden made the decision."
That decision, Maginnis adds, "of course led to the chaotic situation."
9/30/2021 -- Section on Milley's judgment added.