Sullivan Demands Answers, Accountability from Senior Biden & Pentagon Officials Following Botched Afghanistan Withdrawal in Tense Hearing
Chairman of Joint Chiefs Concedes Withdrawal was a “Strategic Failure”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today, demanded accountability from the most senior military leaders and defense officials in the Biden administration for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that left hundreds of Americans and thousands of America’s Afghan allies stranded, and has resulted in a safe haven for global terrorism in the country once again.
Sen. Sullivan first asked each of the witnesses about President Joe Biden’s false claims about the Afghanistan withdrawal, including whether or not they recommended that the president leave a residual force in the country, whether Al Qaeda was indeed operating in Afghanistan, and whether they would characterize the withdrawal as an “extraordinary success.” Sen. Sullivan then asked the witnesses who within the administration has taken accountability and offered their resignation—at the White House or within the Pentagon—for the disastrous withdrawal.
President Biden’s false claims about Afghanistan withdrawal
SULLIVAN: Gentlemen, 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's not telling the truth to the American people. With that, I have a few questions that I'd like you to keep short, concise answers to. On August 18th in a media interview to the American people, the president said that none of his military advisers 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?
MILLEY: I didn't even see the statement, to tell you the truth.
SULLIVAN: I'm reading you a truthful statement. That was a false statement?
MILLEY: Yeah, I'm not -- I'm...
SULLIVAN: Look, I don't have a lot of time.
SULLIVAN: Was that a false statement to the American people or not?
MILLEY: I'm not going to categorize a statement of the president of the United States.
SULLIVAN: General McKenzie, was that a false statement? The president -- the president said none of his commanders said that 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 when he's not telling the truth. Was that a false statement or not?
MCKENZIE: I've given you -- I've given you my opinion on the matter. I've given you my judgment on it, and I'll let (inaudible)...
SULLIVAN: I think we all know it was a false statement, OK? That's number one. President also said if there's an American citizen left behind in Afghanistan, the military's not -- is going to stay until we get them out. General Milley, was that statement -- did that statement turn out to be true or untrue by the president?
MILLEY: I think that was the intent, but we gave him a recommendation on 25th of August to terminate the mission on the 31st of August.
SULLIVAN: The statement was untrue. Let me make another -- then let me ask another question. General Milley, General McKenzie, the president around the same time said, quote, "Al Qaida was gone from Afghanistan," told the American people that. Was that true or not true? Was Al Qaida gone from Afghanistan in mid-August? True or not true?
MILLEY: Al Qaida is still in Afghanistan. They were there in mid-August. They have been severely disrupted and [inaudible] over many, many years. They are not...
SULLIVAN: So it wasn't true. General McKenzie, was that true or not true?
MCKENZIE: Al Qaida was present in Afghanistan.
SULLIVAN: OK, so it wasn't true. Let me make one final one. The president called this entire retrograde operation an extraordinary success. General Miller, in his testimony, disagreed with that assertion. General Milley, was this Afghanistan retrograde operation an extraordinary success?
MILLEY: There's two operations, Senator.
SULLIVAN: Just yes or no. I have a lot of questions. Was this an extraordinary success?
MILLEY: Senator, with all due respect, there's two operations. There's the retrograde, which Miller was in charge of, and there's the Neo, which CENTCOM was in charge of. The retrograde was executed and ended by mid-July with a residual force to defend the embassy. The Neo...
SULLIVAN: You and I have discussed this. Do you -- would you use the term "extraordinary success" for the -- it -- for what took place in August in Afghanistan?
MILLEY: That's the non-combatant evacuation, and I think one of the other senators said it very well. It was a logistical success, but a strategic failure, and I think those are two different (inaudible).
Demands for accountability
SULLIVAN: Look, here's the problem: I think the whole world knows -- this is the cover of the Economist Magazine: "Biden's Debacle." That had stories in it, articles in 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.
And gentlemen, the problem here -- these are not marginal misstatements by the president to the American people; These are dramatic, obvious 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. But here's -- here's the anger: I've never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this, and it's the combination of everybody knowing that this is a debacle, and yet, people defending it as a, quote, "extraordinary success". And here's the biggest: no accountability, no accountability.
You gentlemen have spent your lives, and I've completely respected -- troops in combat. You've been in combat. You've had troops under your command killed in action. You have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical, and the American people respect that. Up and down the chain, where there are instances, commanders get relieved up and down the chain. We see it. The McCain incident, the Fitzgerald incident, the AAV incident with the Marine Corps, three-star, four-star flag officers all relieved of duty. But on this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability, no responsibility from anybody.
<Break in questioning>
SULLIVAN: I will tell you again gentlemen, I've never seen so much anger, at least from my constituents, who have witnessed a fiasco, a humiliation. A President who is consistently telling falsehoods to the American people. The issue is that there is no accountability and you gentlemen have spent decades serving your country honorably in combat. I have the utmost respect for your service, your fidelity to America, and importantly, you've dedicated your lives to an institution that has a culture of strict accountability and responsibility up and down the ranks. I mentioned a few examples this morning. The collisions of the USS McCain and Fitzgerald—everybody up and down the ranks, including the three-star Admiral was relieved. The recent very tragic Marine AAV incident, everybody up and down the ranks, including the commanding general of the first Marine Division was relieved. If you're a Marine or Army second lieutenant training your platoon on and in one of your soldiers loses his NVGs or his rifle, that lieutenant is going to get relieved. But on this issue, one of the biggest national security fiascos in a generation, no one is accountable and the American people are livid because they saw it. They see it. They know it's a debacle.
General Milley, this morning you called the Afghan retrograde a “logistical success but a strategic failure.” I appreciate your honest assessment. I believe the President of the United States is solely responsible for this. Mr. Secretary, do you know if anyone—the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of State or undersecretary for policy at DOD—has offered their resignation to take responsibility for this fiasco?
AUSTIN: I do not, but I don't believe they have.
SULLIVAN: Okay. Thank you. Given the military culture of accountability that all of you gentlemen come from—and again, I respect that more than almost anybody—have any of you offered your resignation to the President at any time since his decision to withdraw? And, General Milley, I understand your earlier answer to this question that senior military advisers and officers can't resign every time they disagree with the President. I actually agree with that. But after the President's decision when the American people see such a strategic failure, as you called it, that's undermining our national security, they expect accountability and there has been none. So have any of you accepted that accountability or responsibility?
MILLEY: I'm accountable for my actions.
SULLIVAN: I'm talking about a resignation.
MILLEY: I have not submitted my letter of resignation.
SULLIVAN: Mr. Secretary?
MCKENZIE: I have not submitted a letter of resignation.
SULLIVAN: Mr. Secretary, I want to know what it will take for someone, anyone in the Biden administration to take responsibility or accountability for this national security fiasco. Anyone?
AUSTIN: Senator, from a DOD perspective, again, you heard me say that we'll continue to review our actions and we won't hesitate to be critical of ourselves. If there's someone that should be held accountable for an action then we'll certainly do that.
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