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Afghanistan updates: Top generals back for second day of grilling on US withdrawal

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(WASHINGTON) — It’s been nearly one month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden’s order to leave by Aug. 31, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

Top Pentagon leaders are appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday amid bipartisan criticism of the chaotic withdrawal and on the failure to anticipate the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.

In their appearance before Congress on Tuesday — their first since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan — the leaders candidly admitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee that they had recommended to Biden that the U.S. should keep a troop presence there, appearing to contradict his assertions to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 29, 11:21 am
GOP links failed drone strike to ‘over-the-horizon’ capabilities

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, raising the August U.S. drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, took direct issue with the U.S. military’s ability to conduct “over the horizon” drone strike capabilities in Afghanistan.

“What we know from your prior statements is that you did not know who it was, who was in the car, whose house it was,” Turner said. “This greatly concerns me as we look to the over horizon claims that the administration has of its ability for counterterrorism.”

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told House lawmakers he took “full responsibility” for the strike.

“That strike was a mistake and I take full responsibility for that strike. I was under no pressure from any quarter to conduct the strike,” McKenzie said.

“While in many cases we were right with our intelligence and forestalled ISIS- K attacks, in this case we were wrong, tragically wrong,” he added.

“Over-the-horizon” capabilities are a cornerstone of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan. The top Pentagon commanders said the U.S. will continue to investigate the intelligence that led to the August strike and will be transparent with their findings.

Sep 29, 10:47 am
Milley praises Afghanistan War veterans, defends calls to China

Echoing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his opening testimony that lawmakers can debate the decisions surrounding the Afghanistan withdrawal but that the courage of U.S. service members is not up for debate.

“Over the course of four presidents, 12 secretaries of defense, seven chairmen, 10 CENTCOM commanders, 20 commanders in Afghanistan, hundreds of congressional delegation visits, and 20 years of congressional oversight, there are many lessons to be learned,” Milley said.

“One lesson we can never forget: every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine who served there for 20 years, protected our country against attack by terrorists, and for that we all should be forever grateful, and they should be forever proud,” he said.

Milley again took the chance to push back on recent characterizations of phone calls to China’s top military official in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s presidency.

“At no time was I attempting to change or influence the process, usurp authority, or insert myself into the chain of command. But I am expected to give my advice and ensure that the president was fully informed on military affairs,” he said.

Sep 29, 10:18 am
Defense secretary delivers opening testimony for House lawmakers

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, facing a House panel on Wednesday, repeated his opening testimony given to Senate lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing, in which Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, appeared to contradict Biden by saying they recommended keeping a residual force of 2,500 troops behind in Afghanistan.

Austin again defended leaving Bagram Airfield, saying it would have required at least 5,000 troops and would have “contributed little” to the mission of protecting the embassy in Kabul, which ultimately fell to Taliban control.

“Staying in Baghram even for counterterrorism purposes meant staying at war in Afghanistan, something that the president made clear that he would not do,” Austin said.

He again walked through some “uncomfortable truths” about the two-decade U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, of which he is a veteran.

“We helped build a state, but we could not forge a nation. The fact that the Afghan army that we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise and it would be dishonest to claim otherwise,” he said.

Sep 29, 10:12 am
Heated House hearing underway with residual force in focus

House Armed Services Chair Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., opened Wednesday’s hearing on Afghanistan with a defense of Biden for ending America’s longest war — and with a preemptive strike on the panel’s Republicans, who he said would spend the day trying to get the military leaders to contradict the commander in chief.

“The option of keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a peaceful and stable environment did not exist,” Smith said, opening the hearing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, face a second day of questions from congressional lawmakers on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

Ranking Republican member Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he “could not disagree more” with Smith and called Biden “delusional” before the leaders gave their opening testimonies.

Sep 29, 9:22 am
Top military leaders face more questions in House hearing

The nation’s top military leaders are back on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. before the House Armed Services Committee — where Republicans are expected to seize on their comments from Tuesday that they recommended Biden keep a residual force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, appearing to contradict the president’s comments to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted in a Senate hearing on Tuesday — their first appearance before lawmakers since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan — that they had recommended the U.S. keep a small troop presence there, with Milley openly advising presidents not to assign complete withdrawal dates without conditions.

In the six-hour hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Milley also characterized that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan as “a strategic failure” and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that it was time to acknowledged some “uncomfortable truths” about the two-decade U.S. military mission there. House lawmakers are expected to follow up on the revelations on Wednesday.

Sep 28, 3:53 pm
1st Senate hearing with top commanders on Afghanistan adjourns

After nearly six hours of testimonies and tough questions, the Senate Armed Services Committee has adjourned its hearing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command — their first since the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Senators sunk into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan ahead of the chaotic evacuation effort. Several GOP senators called on the leaders to resign, to which Milley offered a powerful rebuttal.

“It would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken,” Milley said. “My dad didn’t get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, during the hearing, defended Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in which the president said the views of his advisers were “split,” saying, “There was no one who said, ‘Five years from now, we could have 2,500 troops, and that would be sustainable.’”

“That was not a decision the president was going to make,” Psaki added. “Ultimately, it’s up to the commander in chief to make a decision. He made a decision it was time to end a 20-year war.”

It’s been nearly one month since Biden withdrew all U.S. troops, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.

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