90 Miles From Tyranny : 7 Takeaways as Milley, Austin, McKenzie Testify on Afghanistan, China Phone Calls

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

7 Takeaways as Milley, Austin, McKenzie Testify on Afghanistan, China Phone Calls

In some cases, the answers were surprising. In other cases, the answers were surprising only in hearing top U.S. military leaders state publicly what already was suspected.

The Senate Armed Services Committee got some answers Tuesday from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command.

Most questions from senators focused on the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, but they also wanted to know about Milley’s now infamous calls to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, while Donald Trump was still president.

Austin, Milley, and McKenzie are set to testify Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.

Here are seven big takeaways from their appearance at the Senate hearing.

1. Military to Biden: Leave 2,500 Troops

Milley and McKenzie each said they had backed keeping 2,500 American troops in Afghanistan and feared less than that would risk that country’s falling into chaos.

Milley said he wouldn’t disclose what he advised Biden, but then appeared to do so immediately afterward.

“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,” Milley said. “And I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.”

McKenzie affirmed the same, but said he also would not share his confidential conversation with President Joe Biden.

“I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. I also recommended in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time,” McKenzie said during questioning from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee’s ranking member.

“Those were my personal views,” he said. “I also have a view that a withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and eventually the Afghan government.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., inquired whether either of the generals advised Biden on the hasty Afghan exit.

“If all this is true, Gen. Milley, why haven’t you resigned?” Cotton asked.

Milley answered that he was devoted to civilian control of the military.

“Resigning is a really serious thing. It’s a political act, if I’m resigning in protest,” Milley said. “My job is to provide advice. … That’s what the law is. The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice.”

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2019, added:

It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. My dad didn’t get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima. And those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don’t get the choice to resign. And I’m not going to turn my back on them.

Abbey Gate is the entrance to the Kabul airport where the terrorist bombing occurred June 29, killing 13 American service members.

2. What Generals Say When Asked if Biden Lied?

Biden said in an Aug. 19 interview with ABC News that he didn’t “recall” anyone making a recommendation to him about leaving a troop contingency behind in Afghanistan, which the U.S. and coalition forces invaded in late 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton White House official, asked Biden: “Your top military advisers warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.”

Biden responded: “No, they didn’t. It was split. That wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.”

Stephanopoulos gave him another chance in the interview.

Biden answered: “No, not in terms of whether we were going to get out, in a time frame, all troops. They didn’t argue against that.”

Stephanopoulos, as if aware otherwise, asked yet again.

“So your military advisers did not tell you we should just keep 2,500 troops? It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that.”

Biden held firm.

“No. No one said that to me that I can recall,” the president answered.

Biden’s credibility has come under question on numerous points regarding the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan.

Cotton asked Austin, a retired four-star Army general, whether Biden was telling the truth.

“I know the president to be an honest and forthright man,” Austin replied.

After Cotton asked for a direct answer, the secretary said, using passive voice: “Their input was received by the president, for sure.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, later pushed the generals on Biden’s statement.

“He’s not telling the truth to the American people,” Sullivan said. “The president said none of his military advisers told him that he should keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Gen. Milley, that was a false statement by the president of the United States, was it not?”

Milley first wavered.

“I didn’t even see the statement, to tell you the truth,” Milley said.

After being pressed, he said: “I’m not going to categorize a statement of the president of the United States.”

Sullivan asked McKenzie: “Remember, you do not have to cover for the president when he’s not telling the truth. Was that a false statement or not?”

McKenzie also didn’t answer directly.

“I’ve given you my opinion on the matter,” McKenzie said. “I’ve given you my judgment.”

Sullivan said, “I think we all know it was a false statement.”

Notably, neither the defense secretary nor the two generals said Biden made a true statement.

3. About Those China Phone Calls

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