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tv   Craig Melvin Reports  MSNBC  September 28, 2021 8:00am-9:00am PDT

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why wasn't action taken to secure the kabul airport or retake bagram then? >> thank you, senator. you're right, the tempo had picked up significantly, yet the taliban continued to make advances. our entire chain of command, myself, the chairman, general mckenzie routinely engaged the afghan leadership to encourage them to solidify their defensive plans, to make sure they were providing the right logistics to their troops and further stiffen their defenses, to no avail. to compound that, president ghani continued to make changes in the leadership of the military and this created further problems for the afghan security forces.
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>> i don't mean to interrupt you, but my time is lapsing. this gets to the overestimation, i think the overly optimistic assessment, because even as late as july you're still encouraging the afghan special forces, you're expecting the ghani government to remain. in december of 2019, the "washington post" reported that the u.s. military commanders privately expressed a lack of confidence that the afghan army and police could ever fend off, much less defeat, the taliban on their own. general milley, you noted there was some specific military lessons to be learned. this is not the first time that i think we have relied upon overly optimistic assessments of conditions on the ground or conflict conditions. certainly happened in vietnam. so my question to you is what specific steps can we take to
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make sure that our assessments are not overly optimistic so we can avoid the kind of reliance on assessments that are not accurate? >> i think in the case of working with other countries' armies, it's important to have advisors with those units so you can do a wholistic assessment. it's very difficult to measure. this is very important, a lesson from vietnam and today. we learned in el salvador or colombia where we did assist and helped other countries' armies fight insurgencies and were quite effective, but it was their country, their army that bore the burden of all the fighting and we had very, very few advisors and it was quite effective. every country is different,
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every war is different, but i think those are some key points wort thinking about. >> thank you for your willingness to appear before this committee to answer questions on the withdrawal from afghanistan. you continued and will continue to receive tough questions on what led to this decision. this is an important constitutional requirement of the jobs you have agreed to serve in. i thank you all for your many years of service to our nation. i want to underline the fact that every single member of this committee, regardless of party, is grateful for the dedication and bravery exhibited by our service members, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion at abbey gate. general miller told this committee that he recommended keeping 2500 troops in afghanistan. this was back in january of
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2021. he felt that afghan forces would not hold up long without our support. seems to me there would have been a process to convey general miller's recommendation to the president. can you share the process and who conveyed general miller's recommendation? and was that recommendation delivered to both president trump at the time and also to president biden? >> there is a process for delivering recommendations from commanders in the field. i was part of that process. while i have been very clear that i won't give you my recommendation, i've given you my view that 2500 was an appropriate number to remain and if we went below that number, in fact, we would probably witness a collapse of the afghan government and afghan military. >> i guess my question is would it be fair for the committee to assume that both president trump and president biden received
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that specific information that had been assumed to be delivered by general miller? >> i believe it would be reasonable for the committee to assume that. >> and would general miller have been able to deliver that directly to the president or would someone else had to have delivered that for him? >> i would leave it to general miller to express an opinion on that, but he and i both had the opportunity to be in executive session with the president. i can't share anything beyond making that statement. >> thank you. secretary austin, this committee was briefed on the series of rehearsal concept drills that examined the many potential scenarios that arise to the different actions and counter actions. multiple leaders say the worst case scenario, the collapse of the afghan government, was not considered as a possibility.
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is it true that we went through these drills and never assumed there could be an immediate collapse of the afghan government? >> we planned for a range of possibilities. the entire collapse of the afghan government was clearly one of the things that if you look at the intel estimates and some of the estimates that others have made that could happen. but in terms of specific planning we planned for a contested environment ohr an uncontested environment. the requirement to evacuate a moderate amount of people versus a large amount of people. there was a range of possibilities that we addressed. >> but never with immediate collapse of the government? >> we certainly did not plan against the collapse of a government in 11 days. >> thank you.
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general milley, i think senator cotton made a very good point with regard to the timing, the collapse of kabul and the timing which you were asked for your professional military opinion about the path forward. it appears that in your professional military opinion it would have been prudent to have used a different approach than a date certain with regard to a withdrawal from afghanistan. if that is correct and if there were other alternatives presented to the president, i'm certain that the frustration that you felt in not having your professional military advice followed closely by an incoming president, that you were then tasked in a very short period of time with handling what was a position in time for the people that were on the ground there to respond in an emergency basis.
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would it be fair to say that you changed from a long-term plan of gradual withdrawal based on conditions to one in which you had to make immediate changes based upon a date certain? >> senator, as a matter of professional advice, you would advise any leader don't put dates certain on end dates. make things conditions based. two presidents in a row put dates on it. i don't think that's -- my advice is don't put specific dates. make things conditions based. that is how i've been trained over many, many years. with respect, though, to the 31st and the decision on the 25th, the risk to mission and the risk to force and, most importantly, the risk to american citizens that are remaining, that was going to go up, not down on the 1st of
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september. i know there's american citizens there, but they would have been at greater risk had we stayed past the 31st, in our professional opinion. >> thank you. >> senator kaine. >> i want to return to a point that senator wicker made. i'm going to ask the question during my second round of questions after lunch and with the number of staff here in this room we ought to be able to get an answer. if we can't, it will suggest to the committee -- and i don't think you want to suggest this to the committee -- that you don't want to be responsive to that question or that you don't talk to the state department or that the number of americans in afghanistan is something that you're indifferent to. i don't think any of those are true so i'll ask the question again after lunch and i hope we
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can get an answer. two compliments and then a critical inquiry. first, thanks to president biden for ending the mission in afghanistan after 20 years. it took guts and it was the right thing to do and it should have been done earlier. a virginia service member's wife said to me recently, i'm so glad that my baby is not going to be born at war. u.s. troops are still deployed, still in harm's way, but to the families of those who have been deployed over and over again into iraq and afghanistan over the course of the last 20 years, they are relieved that america is turning the page and rejecting the notion we should be a nation at permanent war. second, the effort to evacuate 120,000 people to safety under chaotic circumstances was remarkable. i visited dulles, the principal
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arrival point for afghans. i also visited fort lee and i visited with afghans, our troops, the many federal agencies working together and ngos. the competent and compassionate service made a deep impression on me. we should do all we can to make a transition to safe life in america. why did the afghan government collapse so quickly and why did the u.s. government overestimate their capacity? to any who have said we couldn't see this coming, the members of this committee know that's wrong. an immediate collapse may not have been the most likely outcome, but we have heard that d.o.d. estimates of afghan strength were way too optimistic. i believe the u.s. government had a good evacuation plan, but
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it was premised on a government that showed high resistance to the taliban. so we did not adequately prepare for the possibility of a quick collapse. we need to explore military and interagency decision making processes to understand why we were unrealistic and how to correct that going forward. the most important part of the question is why a military that we trained for 20 years at a cost of $800 billion collapsed so quickly. i would like you to address the question. if you can't, we can do it after lunch. first the lightning collapse may show that our training was insufficient and that it did not prepare the afghan military to defend the country on their own. that should have been our goal, but we failed to accomplish it. if so, how must we change our thinking about training foreign militaries. second, the lightning collapse may not prove that they were poor fighters but that they were demoralized. did they lack confidence in their own political and military
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leaders? were they demoralized by a 2020 peace agreement between the u.s. and the taliban that didn't even include the afghan government. did u.s. and allied funding deepen a culture of corruption that long predated our involvement. we celebrated gains in public health and women's education and we assumed afghans would fight to preserve those gains rather than allow the taliban to take over. in other words, we thought we knew what afghans wanted. was our belief incredibly naive? we can't get one-third of americans to take the covid vaccine or accept the results of a presidential election. do we really think we can transform the culture of another nation? to each of our witnesses when we return in the second round, i
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will ask you this question. why do you believe the afghan military and civilian government collapsed so quickly? with that, i'll yield back. >> thank you, mr. chair. gentlemen, thank you very much for being here today. unfortunately this morning's hearing is required due to the haphazard withdrawal. to those that have given their service and sacrifice over the past two decades of the global war on terror. the loss of our service members and abandonment of allies last month was an unforced disgraceful humiliation that didn't have to happen. the president put a cheap political victory, a withdrawal
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timeline tied to the 20th anniversary of 911 on his calendar. i do appreciate your open, your honest and expert participation in communicating to this committee what went wrong. i think our american citizens are at a real cross roads right now where they are questioning the leadership from this president and this administration. president biden's blunders can't be erased but the united states must now account for them through a revamped counter terrorism strategy that recognizes the newfound momentum of terrorists and new threats emanating from the middle east in addition to rising challenges that we see coming from china and russia. pretty high stakes. secretary austin, i'd like to start with you. did president biden or any of his national security advisors
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express any military or diplomatic conditions for the american withdrawal from afghanistan beyond the looming date of 9/11? what were those conditions outlined to you? >> again, once the president went through a very deliberate decision making process and made his decision to exit afghanistan, there were no additional conditions placed on it. >> can you tell me that he did take into consideration military or diplomatic conditions? and what were those conditions he was weighing as he was making those decisions? >> sure. one of the things that all of us wanted to see happen was for this conflict to end with a
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diplomatic solution. and so one of the things we serm certainly wanted to see was progress being made in the doha negotiations. he did not see any progress being made and there was really not much of a bright future for that process. >> so general milley had stated earlier that his recommendation is always, as any military commander should do, should be conditions based. and we have to be able to evaluate whether those conditions are achievable and if we can successfully complete those. it sounds like there were very little or very little consideration given to diplomatic or military conditions. the diplomatic, again, going to conditions based, the diplomatic end to it, i think general milley, you always said that the
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military mission would end on the 31st and transition to a diplomatic mission. but i don't understand how we fulfill a diplomatic mission after august 31st when there are absolutely no diplomats on the ground in afghanistan. they're gone. they've been evacuated. who do we hand that mission off to when there is nobody there to complete it? can you then say that the president directed you, secretary austin, to execute an unconditional withdrawal from afghanistan? unconditional, august 31st, done. >> once we made the decision to withdraw, that was the decision, to leave. we certainly wanted to make sure that we shaped conditions so that our embassy could maintain a presence there and continue to engage the government of afghanistan. protection for the embassy was
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pretty important. >> secretary austin, you are extremely diplomatic in your answers. i can appreciate that. but this was not a conditions based withdrawal. i think all three of you have stated that you made your best opinion known to the president of the united states. he had no conditions other than to get our people out of afghanistan, which he failed at because we still have americans as well as afghan partners in afghanistan. thank you, mr. chair. i yield back. >> senator king, please. >> i'm finding this a very interesting hearing. it's really two hearings at once. one is on the question of if we should leave afghanistan and if we shouldn't, what should be our commitment to the country. the other is the withdrawal, which i thought was the subject of the hearing. the decision to leave afghanistan was made by president trump and his
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administration on february 29th, 2020, where we committed to leave by a date certain. there was a particular provision or condition, if you will, about negative sha shats between the taliban and the afghan government. there was each a date specified, march 10th, 2020, less than two weeks after the signing of the doha agreement. clearly that condition was not met. my question is were there any efforts on behalf of the prior administration to enforce that condition of negotiation with the afghan government and the taliban? >> senator, as i said in my opening remarks, the conditions that were required of the taliban, none of them were met except one. >> my question is, did we attempt to enforce those conditions?
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did we inform the taliban, for example, we won't advocate for the release of 5,000 prisoners unless you begin negotiations, or something similar? >> i don't have personal knowledge of that, whether or not. but i do know that none of the conditions were met except the one, which is don't attack american forces and coalition forces. >> the conditions were not met, but you testified that the troop withdrawals and the release of the 5,000 taliban prisoners did proceed even though the conditions had not been met, is that correct? >> that is correct. >> you testified you provided your best military advice to president biden that there should be a residual force left in afghanistan. did you provide the same advice to president trump? >> again, i'm not going to discuss advice.
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that's what a series of memos and advice in the september/october time frame, that's exactly what they were. you can talk to secretary esper. he can tell you the same thing. >> so your military judgment didn't change on january 20th? >> no. >> thank you. general mckenzie you were the only one to mention it in the entire hearing. in my judgment, one of the key moments was the fleeing of president ghani and that was what really pulled the rug out from the military and demoralized the entire government. that was not the beginning of the end, the end of the end. do you have some thoughts on that? >> i think when we consider what happened to the afghan military, you have to consider completely linked to what happened to the afghan government. when your president flees literally on no notice in the middle of the days that has a profoundly debilitating effect on everything else. events were pretty far along on 15 august.
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i do believe it is possible could they have fought had the president stayed. there was still considerable afghan formations around kabul. >> i do want to point out to my knowledge and memory this committee never had a hearing on the decision to withdraw from afghanistan in february of 2020. it now appears that would have been a beneficial hearing because we could have discussed all of these issues, but we were already on the path for withdrawal. the withdrawal date under that agreement was may 1st of 2021. president biden extended that. i don't know whether it was a negotiation or some kind of understanding until the end of august. general milley, you talked about
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your military advice about leaving on august 31st versus staying to try to help additional americans leave. was it the unanimous recommendation of the joint chiefs that the august 31st date should be observed? if so, why was that the military advice? >> it was of the joints chief plus general mckenzie, general donahue. the reason is risk to force, risk to mission and risk to americans. after that we were going to go to war with the taliban. of that there was no doubt. we were already in conflict with isis. at that point in time if we stayed past the 31st, which militarily is feasible, but it would have been required an additional commitment of significant amounts of force, maybe 25,000 troops.
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that's what would have happened beginning on the 1st. that would have resulted in significant casualties on the u.s. side and it would have placed american citizens that are still there at greater risk in my professional view and the view of all the other generals. so on the 25th we recommended that we transition to a diplomatic option beginning on the 31st. >> you said that the taliban have not lived up to the terms of the agreement. give me a rough date when they first breached the terms of the agreement where you said they were not living up to the terms of the doha agreement? what was the first evidence they were not living up to the terms of the agreement? >> the memo signed 29 february. through the fighting season of the summer of 2020 one of their requirements, for example -- >> so more than a year ago? >> absolutely, sure. >> i don't buy the idea that this president was bound by a decision made by a prior
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president. this was not a treaty. it was clearly an agreement where the taliban were not living up to it. this president, president biden could have come in, reasserted conditions and completely changed the timeline. he's not bound by the president's prior agreements any more than he was bound by president trump's decision to exit the iran deal or the paris climate accords. that to me is a false narrative. i also have to say this president moving forward with a failed construct has cost lives of north carolinians. we're working on a case of an siv holder who had a father in the afghan police force. as we were working to get through them, the taliban 2.0, they sent pictures of the slit
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throats of people that we were working personally with. they killed this pregnant woman. they killed this police officer and they are killing countless others now that we should have gotten out. secretary austin, i think we do owe a debt of gratitude to the people who got 124,000 people out. it was a logistical success, but this is a strategic failure. general mckenzie, general miller said 2500. i've heard you and general milley also say you personally agreed but didn't necessarily recommend to the president the 2500. i understand from general miller there was a broader context in that recommendation. there were 2500 u.s. fighters but i understand almost 5,000 nato allies or 5,000 others that were willing to remain on the
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ground and, as general miller said, keep the hand on the shoulder of the afghan national forces so we could have a counter to the taliban. is that correct? it was probably in the 7,000 range. >> you're correct. >> also a cia presence with bases out there for human intelligence to help us be more precise with the execution of whatever operations we had on the ground. >> that is correct, senator. >> i know you won't say you advised the president, but is it fair to say when general miller said he advised all of you on his recommendations, it sounds like two of the three of you agreed with it. is it fair to say those recommendations were made and in your best military advice it could have kept the situation stable in afghanistan? >> my position was if you go below 2500 you're going to look at a collapse of the afghan
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military. i did not foresee it to be days. i thought it would take months. but the rest of the ecosystem would go out too. >> did any of you embrace the notion that the 2500 plus the estimated 5,000 nato allies and partners who were willing to stay there as well, did any of you agree with the president's assessment that if he acted on that recommendation that he would ultimately have to send tens of thousands more u.s. service members to afghanistan? that if we held that one, it would delay the day where we would be back to 100,000 u.s. forces in afghanistan? >> these discussions were occurring in january, february and march. they're separate from the late august discussions. >> by in your best military judgment, do you believe that the recommendations that general
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miller put forth was some 2500, do you believe that would have sewn the seeds for ultimately having to send tens of thousands of u.s. service members back to afghanistan, as the president has said publicly? >> i believe there was a risk you would incur increasing attacks by the taliban. that was a risk withholding at 2500. that was a very clear risk. i'm humbled by my ability to deduce what the taliban would or would not do. >> thank you, mr. chair. >> let me recognize senator warren. i'm going over for the vote. senator hirono will preside in my absence. >> i want to begin by zooming out because it is not possible to ups our final months in
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afghanistan without viewing what led up to them. everyone says that the withdrawal was a failure but everything before that was great clearly hasn't been paying attention. by october 2018, the afghan government controlled only 54% of the 407 districts. and by may 2020, the afghan government controlled less than a third of afghan's 407 districts. we poured money and support and air cover and the afghan government continued to fail. by 2021 it was clear that 2500 troops could not successfully prop up a government that had been losing ground and support to the taliban for years. secretary austin, i understand that you advised president biden to stay in afghanistan, but as you acknowledge, staying or withdrawing is a decision for the president alone.
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so i want to focus on what happened next. once president biden made the decision to have u.s. forces leave the country, who designed the evacuation? >> senator, again, i won't address the advice i gave the president. i would say in his calculus this was not risk free. the taliban, as we've said earlier in this hearing, were committed to recommencing their operations against our forces. his assessment was that in order to sustain that and continue to do things that benefitted the afghans, that would require at some point that he increase our presence in afghanistan. once he made the decision, then
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of course from a military perspective in terms of the retrograde of the people and the equipment, that planning was done by central command and certainly principally by general miller, very detailed planning. and then we came back and briefed the entire interagency on the details of that plan. >> okay. so the military planned the evacuation. did president biden follow your advice on executing on the evacuation plan? >> he did. >> did president biden give you all the resources that you needed? >> from my view, he did. >> did president biden ignore your advice on the evacuation at any point? >> no, senator, he did not. >> did he refuse any request for anything that you needed or asked for? >> no. >> so the president followed the
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advice of his military advisors in planning and executing this withdrawal. as we've already established, the seeds for our failure in afghanistan were planted many, many years ago. so let me ask you one more question, secretary austin. knowing what you know now, if we had stayed in afghanistan for another year, would it have made a fundamental difference? >> again, it depends on what size you remain in at and what your objectives are. there are a range of possibilities, but if you stayed there at a force posture of 2500, certainly you'd be in a fight with the taliban and you'd have to reenforce yourself. >> i would also add one more year of propping up a corrupt government and an army that wouldn't fight on its own was not going to give us a different
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outcome. anyone who thinks differently is either fooling himself or trying to fool the rest of us. i believe president biden had it exactly right. withdrawing was long overdue. the withdrawal was conducted in accordance with the advice of his military advisors, who planned and executed every step of this withdrawal. thank you, madam chair. >> senator sullivan, you are recognized. >> gentleman, this committee recognizes that your constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the president or resign if you don't agree with his decisions and policies, like secretary mattis did. but i want to emphasize you do not have a duty, constitutional or otherwise, to cover for the commander in chief when he is not telling the truth to the american people. with that, i have a few questions i'd like you to keep short, concise answers to.
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on august 18th, the president said that none of his military advisors told him that he should keep u.s. forces in afghanistan. general milley, that was a false statement by the president of the united states, was it not? >> i didn't even see the statement to tell you the truth. >> i'm reading you a truthful statement. that was a false statement? >> i'm not -- look -- >> i don't have a lot of time. was that a false statement? >> i'm not going to categorize the statement of a president of the united states. >> general mckenzie, was that a false statement? the president said none of his commanders said he should keep troops in afghanistan, was that a false statement by the president of the united states? remember, you do not have a duty to cover for the president. >> i've given you my judgment on it. >> i think we all know it was a false statement. that's number one. the president also said if there's an american citizen left
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behind in afghanistan, the military is going to stay until we get them out. general milley, did that statement turn out to be true or untrue by the president? >> i think that was the intent, but we gave him a recommendation on the 25th of august to terminate the mission on the 31st of august. >> the statement was untrue. let me ask another question. general milley, general mckenzie the president around the same time said, quote, al qaeda was gone from afghanistan. was that true or not true? was al qaeda gone from afghanistan in mid august? true or not true? >> al qaeda is still in afghan. they were there in mid august. they have been severely disrupted over many many years. >> so it wasn't true. general mckenzie? >> al qaeda was present in afghanistan. >> the president called this entire retrograde operation an extraordinary success. general miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion.
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general milley, was this operation an extraordinary success? >> there's two operations, senator. >> just yes or no. i have a lot of questions. was this an extraordinary success? >> with all due respect there's go operations. there's retrograde which miller was in charge of. and there's the neo. the retrograde was executed in mid july. >> would you use the term extraordinary discuss for what took place in august in afghanistan? >> that's the noncombatant evacuation. >> here's the problem. i think the whole world knows. this is the cover of economist magazine, biden's debacle. that had stories and articles in
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it called "the fiasco in afghanistan is a huge and unnecessary blow to america's standing." that was one article. joe biden blames everybody else, that's another article. china sees america humbled. that's another article. these are not marginal misstatements by the president of the united states. these are dramatic falsehoods that go to the very heart of the foreign policy fiasco we have all witnessed. these are life and death deceptions that the president of the united states told the american people. i have one final question. i might leave it because it's a long one for the follow-up. here's the anger. i've never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this. it's the combination of everybody knowing this is a debacle and people defending it as an extraordinary success. here's the biggest, no
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accountability. you gentlemen have spent your lives and i completely respect it, troops in combat, you've had troops under your command killed in action. you have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical. commanders get relieved up and down the chain, we see it, the mccain incident, the fitzgerald incident, the aav incident with the marine corps. but on this matter on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability, no responsibility from anybody. so i will ask this final question of all of you. senator cotton talked about it. >> senator sullivan, could you submit your question for the record, please?
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we're trying to keep to a 5-minute questioning rounds. you can ask the question in your second round if you'd like. thank you. senator peters. >> thank you, madam chair. thank you to each and every one of you for your service to our country. i want to return to some of the comments made by senator warren. if ever we're going to have a strategic assessment of what happened in afghanistan, it's important that any kind of strategic assessment does not just look at the present but look at the past and the future. if we're going to do that, we have to look over the last 20 years we were in afghanistan and we're going to have to have a pretty hard nosed assessment of that. general milley you mentioned that strategic decisions have consequences and there are a lot
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of lessons to be learned over 20 years of our involvement in afghanistan. i sat at this table here at armed services for many years, served in the house before, have had an opportunity to travel to afghanistan on a couple of occasions. if we've ever asked our military leaders the situation in afghanistan, we've often heard it's a stalemate right now, but this year coming up is going to be different. i heard that year after year. this year's going on the different. there's one commentator who's said that we didn't really have a 20-year war in afghanistan, we had 20 one-year wars in afghanistan. how would you respond to that? >> i would certainly say, senator, that's something to think about. you've heard me say in my opening comments we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. did we have the right strategy, did we have too many strategies.
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if you're reshaping that strategy every year, one year at a time, then that has consequences. so i think that's something we've got to go back and look at. we also have to look at the impact, the effect of the corruption that was in the environment, weak leadership, changes in leadership and a number of factors. >> i want to build on that, because i think that's important, secretary austin. for example, general milley, when you commanded nato ground forces in afghanistan eight years ago, you called 2013 a critical year for the afghan security forces because it was the first time they had taken responsibility for their security across the country. secretary austin, you offered similar assessments in 2015 and 2016 in testimony before this committee. you emphasized there were 326,000 forces and they were ready to lead security operations.
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i'll just say from my experience, especially when i was in afghanistan, the input that i got from our commanders was that this year's going to be different, we're going to be able to do things better. but i got a completely different assessment when i went to the mess hall and ate with the soldiers and marines and folks on the ground who said, i don't trust these folks that we're with. i don't know if they're going to fight. they don't even show up. they get their paycheck, but they don't show up. did we just become fixated perhaps on some tactical performance from our forces, their forces and forget to measure the afghan security force's institutional health as a fighting force that could sustain a force even though they're in an incredibly weak economy and a whole host of complicated cultural issues? >> clearly questions deep on.
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we had a number of advisors down to fairly low levels. as we began to scale back on the people that we had interfacing with the afghans on a daily basis, we began to lose that fingertip feel. so our ability to assess with some degree of certainty continued to erode the smaller that we got. >> my sense is that was what we were hearing for years. it wasn't just at the end. that this was an endemic problem for over a decade. so hopefully we will have the opportunity to do that. what are we actually doing to learn from the conclusion of these military operations, particularly from a strategic assessment point of view when it comes to end of conflict transition? we're going to have potentially
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other operations like this. >> as we always do, senator, we're going to take a hard look at ourselves in terms of what we did over the last 20 years, what worked, what didn't work and we're going to learn from those lessons and make sure we incorporate that into our planning and our strategic assessment going forward. >> thank you. >> senator kramer, please? >> thank you for your service and being here and god bless the men and women under your command. general mckenzie, is it true that u.s. forced hat the isis-k under surveillance before august 25th and could have struck them before the deadly attacks at kabul, but were not given the authority to strike? >> no, that's not true. >> i noticed the president was quick to take a victory lap
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after the first strike. he understand threatened to have union bosses beat me up. he said just do it. if we find more, we'll strike them. this is after he said of the isis-k leaders, we will hunt you down. he talks tough. i also noticed he's been equally silent, taking no responsibility for the strike on innocent civilians, including children, that was caused by his insecure need to appear tough. he just led you take the blame, general mckenzie. but what i really worry about is the air crews who actually were pressured into pulling the trigger that terrible day. secretary austin, as you know, the north dakota air national guard operates reapers around the world and i know what kind of pressure those air crews are under and the level of responsibility they feel to accomplish their missions properly. i'm worried that whoever was operating the aircraft involved in the tragic 29th august strike
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was set up to fail by an administration that wanted a political victory more than they wanted an american victory. have you reached out to the air crew to make sure it's not their fault that there's seven dead children? >> i have not. i have directed a three star review of this incident. general mckenzie did an initial investigation and i've directed a three star review. so i won't make any comments. >> there certainly seemed to be a lot of indications that a terrorist event was likely if not imminent leading up to the isis-k bombing on the 26th. why were our militaryposed afte was known? >> the purpose of our force at the airfield was to bring american citizens and afghans at risk out.
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in order to do that, you had to have the gates open. you had to process people. you're right, there were a lot of threats. we worked very hard to minimize those threats. every once in a while the bad guys sneak one in on you. it wasn't through any lack of attention to try to find those cells and we did find a number. and we did, in fact, enable and stop those attacks from occurring. this one we were not successful on. >> i want to drill down just a minute. the taliban was controlling the checkpoints obviously around the airport and you indicated, general mckenzie, you called it a pragmatic relationship of necessity with the taliban. did we share any information with the taliban about the isis-k threat and how did the taliban respond to it? in other words, how did they get in? is it possible they let them in on purpose?
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>> it's possible that they let them in on purpose, but the body of evidence indicated that did not happen. i defer to no one in my disdain for the taliban and my lack of trust for them, attacks from occurring. this time someone got through. i believe there are other times that someone did not get through. >> there are patriotic americans across the country. and in north dakota they are genuinely pissed off. and they think there is rationalizing. and some of you admitted that it wasn't perfect. but extraordinary success rattles them when they hear that there is 124,000 people, and we
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don't know much about a lot of them and yet we know a lot about people that were not brought back to the united states. and they're really upset. i know you know that. i think that you're seeing the reflection of that in the elected representatives. and i look forward to that closed session as well, general. to learn more about august 26th. >> thank you, senator manchin, please. >> thank you, i appreciate all of you. i'm having a hard time, i remember vietnam very well, i was in line an a injury prevented that from happening. i can't explain to my generation and others how we got in this and didn't get out. we didn't learn from vietnam.
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that was a horrible exit. this was worse than that as far as my recall, and i don't know what lessons we're taking from this right now. but i look back if we had time served, and do any of you think that could have made a difference? we thought we could try to change the nation, and that is going to end up in afghanistan? i can't comprehend any of that to be honest with you. anyone that wants to help me, i know that you have a great knowledge of history and how we got into situations, how maybe we should keep from repeating that. >> as i said, in my opening
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comment -- >> i'm sorry, i was conducting a meeting and i was not able to be here for that. >> i mentioned there has been four presidents, many people on the ground, dozens of secretaries of defense, et cetera. and outcomes like this not determined in the last five days, the outcomes in a war like this, a outcome that is a strategic failure, the enmy is in charge in kabul. that is the outcome of 20 years, not 20 days, and some of them, in the military sphere, one of them, for example, is the mirror images of the building of the afghanistan national army based
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on american doctrine, tactics, and that is a military that may, i will wait full evaluation, but they may have been present on us and higher tech systems to fight a counter insurgency war. another is the intel. how did we miss a collapse that big. but things like corruption, the paracidic nature of the police forces. we need to look at it very seriously and comprehensively overtime. >> do we know where the former president of afghanistan is today and how much money he took with him? >> secretary austin, do you have
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any idea? >> i think he may be in the uae. i'm not certain of that, that is the last report they had and in terms of money -- >> there is no way we can trace that through our? to the banking institutions? no way we have any insight on that whatsoever? there has to be exchanges back and forth, i'm sure he is not keeping it in the bank of afghanistan. defense doesn't have any info on that. i'm just looking for some answer that's are maybe not answerable. but everyone is asking how do we prevent it from happening again. there is not a person that i spoke to on social ops that were there. i there was a couple times in 2006, in 2011 i was there, but every time it got worse, not
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better. so this could not have been a surprise. they never had an allegiance to a country. and they would say it got worse every day. we used to drive from kabul to bagram. and when we went back the second time we could not do that. it drives me absolutely insane to see the television at night and see the taliban and all of them wearing our uniforms, wearing our night vision, using everything that we have, that we left there. i can't believe it, i can't even get an accounting of how many equipment we really left. but to not to plan better to take that out was unbelievable.
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i would flag for you that all of the equipment that we have, that we use, was retro graded by general miller as part of the draw down. thousands of tons of equipment and whatever high end equipment that we have that we're using. the equipment that the afghanistan security forces had is the equipment that you see and of course the helicopters left i asked them to demilitarize those so they could not be used again. >> i hope that the future of
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america they will not continue what we have seen please help us not do this again. >> thank you each for being here. one thing that i hope at some point you will address is the context of your calls with regard to what they warned would be an attack. also if there was any indications that the chinese were nervous. one thing that surprised me is the president blamed everyone else but himself. he is the president of the united states, he has the ability to make these decisions.
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he is blaming the military of afghanistan, which i think is disingenerous. the people of the white house. secretary austin, something you said surprised me. you said you were ready and you exceeded expectations. you said credibility is solid and the president followed your advice. do you still believe the most effective withdrawals vofl extracting the military, abandon l our military instilllations and reducing the force before getting our military out? >> thanks, senator. first the decision was to end military options and draw down all of our forces and retro grade all of our equipment and
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that was accomplished. also we wanted to maintain an embassy in cal bull. that would enable to to continue with the government. continue the afghan security forces. if the plan was to leave a diplomatic presence there. and we were also going to live a small military force there. so that was the plan, senator. >> but you didn't address that it was your plan, you acknowledged it was your plan and your plan said you would do all of these things before we got the civils out. when have we

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