September 28, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned witnesses at a committee hearing to receive testimony on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations.
In response to Inhofe’s questions, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command, confirmed that, although President Biden said on August 18 that none of his military leaders recommended leaving a troop presence in Afghanistan, they did make that recommendation. Further, the witnesses confirmed that Americans were left behind, but could not state how many.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It was two weeks ago that we had a closed, classified hearing. We had General Miller's recommendation at that time. Well, let me first of all just mention that during their confirmation process you committed, and I'm speaking now to General McKenzie and General Milley, to give me your honest and personal views of this committee, even if those views were different from those of the administration, and I'm confident that you will be doing that. During this hearing that we had, it was emphasized to us from General Miller that he was recommending the 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Now, we didn't receive the documentation from your offices, I say to the witnesses today, until, well actually, 10:35 last night. So, it really wasn't time to get into a lot of the details, but I'd ask General McKenzie, did you agree to the recommendation that General Miller had two weeks ago?
McKenzie: Senator, again, I won't share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time; those are my personal views. I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead, inevitably, to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually, the Afghan government.
Inhofe: Yes, I understand that. General Milley, I assume you agree with that in terms of the recommendation of 2,500?
Milley: What I said in my opening statement, and the memoranda that I wrote back in the fall of 2020 remained consistent, and I do agree with that.
Inhofe: This committee is unsure as to whether or not General Miller's recommendation ever got to the president. You know, obviously, there are conversations with the president, but I would like to ask even though, General McKenzie, I think you've all made this statement - did you talk to the president about General Miller's recommendation?
McKenzie: Sir, I was present when that discussion occurred, and I'm confident that the president heard all the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully.
Inhofe: One of the recommendations that was made by the three of you would be the recommendation that originally was made by General Miller two weeks ago. During the August 18 interview on ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked President Biden, whether U.S. troops would stay beyond August 31 if there is still Americans to evacuate. President Biden responded, and this is a quote, “if there's American citizens left, we're going to stay to get them all out.” This didn't happen. Biden's decision resulted in all the troops leaving, but the American citizens are still trying to get out. How many American citizens, in your opinion, are still there? Just go down the line each one of you. Anyone?
Austin: Senator, I would defer to the State Department for that assessment, but that's a dynamic process. They've been contacting the civilians that are in Afghanistan, and again, I would defer to them for definitive numbers.
Inhofe: Go ahead. Others?
Milley: Just same as the Secretary just said. There were numbers at the beginning of this whole process with the F-77 report out of the embassy, and we know that we took out almost 6,000, I guess it is, American citizens. But how many remain?
Inhofe: Okay. Do all of you agree that Secretary of State Blinken, when he made his analysis as to how many people would still be there? He talked about that 10 to 15,000 citizens left behind and then evacuated some 6,000. That would mean a minimum of 4,000 would still be there now. Would anyone disagree with that? By your silence, I assume you agree.
Austin: I personally don't believe that there are 4,000 American citizens still left in Afghanistan, but I cannot confirm or deny that, Senator.
Inhofe: So you think Secretary of State was probably wrong in his analysis.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.