Pentagon leaders to face Afghanistan reckoning in Congress By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Marines pay tribute to their servicemen who died in combat during a ceremony held at Hamid Karzai Internation Airport, Kabul (Afghanistan), August 27, 2021. Picture taken August 27, 2021. U.S. Central Command/Handout via REUTERS
By Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s top military leaders are expected to face some of the most contentious hearings in memory this week over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Taliban back in power.
Both the Senate’s and House’s oversight committees of the U.S. army will be holding hearings Tuesday and Wednesday. Republicans want to highlight the mistakes Biden and his administration made in the aftermath of the war that lasted two decades.
The hearings will be similar to the two-weeks ago hearings in which U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken stood by his administration despite facing calls for him resignation.
U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin expects to praise American personnel that helped 124,000 Afghans flee the country. The operation was also a costly one, as 13 U.S. troop deaths and scores of Afghans were killed in suicide bombings outside Kabul Airport.
According to a U.S. official, Austin will “be open about what we could have done better” during the meeting.
This will include U.S. military drone strikes before withdrawal, in which 10 civilians were killed, according to the Pentagon. It was not Islamic State militants that it claimed it was targeting, but they are included.
The official stated that “We lost people and took likes” in the evacuation.
Before the hearing began, Senator James Inhofe (the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican) wrote Austin with a lengthy list of information requests, which included questions about the Aug. 26 bombing at the airport, equipment left behind, and future counterterrorism plans.
Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat) said that lawmakers will also be pressing for information on “a lack in coordination and a plan real about how we would get all of the Afghans who have helped us leave the country.”
“I’m not sure if we’ll receive answers. In a phone interview, she said that questions would be asked about how we reached the Afghanistan point.
The two top U.S. military commanders who will be testifying are Marine General Frank McKenzie (head of U.S. Central Command) and Army General Mark Milley (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).
McKenzie described the drone strike as a “tragic error” that raised serious questions about America’s ability to identify terrorist targets in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdraws.
McKenzie, along with other U.S. officials, will have to defend plans of the Biden Administration to deal with future terrorist threats by groups such as al Qaeda or Islamic State through drones and commandos flying from abroad.
Republicans accuse the Biden government of downplaying risks related to that “over-the-horizon” capability.
Milley might also face intensive questioning about a report in which he claimed he called his Chinese counterpart secretly to raise concerns about President Donald Trump.
Milley’s Office argued against the claims in the book. It claimed the phone calls were coordinated across all levels of the U.S government and within the Pentagon.
Marco Rubio called for Milley’s resignation. Rand Paul stated that he ought to be tried if the accounts in the book were true. Milley, a member of Congress who will be testifying on Wednesday, has been the most concerned.