By Chan Kung*
On September 28, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Senate Armed Services Committee on controversial incidents such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and leaking classified information to China. Also present to testify were Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Kenneth McKenzie of the U.S. Central Command.
General Milley attempted to defend himself at the beginning. Throughout the session, it was clear there was the division of two camps. The Democratic Party tried its best to defend President Joe Biden, and at the same time to defend General Milley and Secretary Austin. In contrast, the Republican Party focused on certain issues that caused General Milley and Secretary Austin appeared to be very passive. Both General Milley and Secretary Austin attributed the responsibility for some issues to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A senator asked how much the U.S. military learned from what happened before in Vietnam, and now in Afghanistan. General Milley replied that there were indeed lessons to learn, and it was difficult to conduct intelligence surveillance. He indicated that the U.S. military cannot Americanize wars in other countries. This of course, does not make sense, because unless the U.S. military never fights in other countries, there must be the issue of “Americanizing” wars in other countries.
A Republican senator asked whether President Biden took the military or diplomatic conditions into consideration when making decisions. Secretary Austin actually replied that President Biden “did not see any progress being made, and there was really not much of a bright future for that process”. He said that once President Biden made the decision to withdraw, then that was the decision to leave. Another Democratic senator said that “the decision to leave Afghanistan was made by President Trump”, and whether General Milley offered the same objection at that time. General Milley refused to answer this question, but he made it clear that his opinion has not changed. Another senator directly hit back at the Democratic senator, saying that President Biden opposed many Trump agreements, including the restoration of the Iran nuclear agreement. If President Biden wanted to, he can completely overturn all Trump agreements, hence the military evacuation has nothing to do with Trump.
Another senator asked if Al-Qaeda has gone from Afghanistan, to this General Milley replied that he believes Al-Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. The senator said that then President Biden was being “dishonest” as he said earlier there was no more Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Another senator asked if General Milley would use the term “extraordinary success” for what had taken place in August in Afghanistan, and to this he responded “it was a logistical success, but a strategic failure”.
Democratic Senator Manchin mentioned U.S. military retreat from Saigon in Vietnam and now he saw the defeat in Afghanistan, which he thinks is worse than U.S.’ defeat in Vietnam, an opinion confirmed by ANBOUND. He then asked what lessons has the U.S. learned? General Milley replied that there are issues related to intelligence and misjudgments, all of which require a comprehensive assessment.
Another senator asked, “when in the history of this country, have we ever had the U.S. military say and have a plan that we will take our military out first before we take our civilians?” Secretary’s Austin responded that “the plan was to leave the embassy there, to continue to address the needs of our American citizens, to engage with the government”.
Senator Hawley summarized the session that first of all, the President of the United States lied to the American people, and secondly the State Department, and maybe the White House, appeared to have pushed back the evacuation to such a time that it became a catastrophe. On the question of the failure to prevent the ISIS-K suicide bomber, Secretary Austin said one of his departments in defense “is working to try to find ways to propose ways to truncate the process or come up with alternative means”. ANBOUND has previously noted it was extraordinary for such an attack to be successful. A senator remarked that the situation made “American allies are in disbelief, but American enemies are delighted”.
During the entire session, General McKenzie was present as well. He did not answer much questions, but his demeanor was calmer.
*Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chan Kung is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chan Kung‘s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.