Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and will face the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
Milley resisted when pressed about whether Biden was at fault for U.S. failures in Afghanistan, calling it “the job of the American people” and Congress to judge the president.
“This is a 20-year war,” Milley said, arguing that the outcome was the result of “a cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions that go way back … There’s a whole series of decisions that take place over 20 years.”
Milley further defended himself from accusations that he usurped the chain of command under former President Donald Trump.
“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 when pressed by lawmakers about his calls with Chinese military leaders in the fall of 2020.
Milley confirmed that he told his Chinese counterpart “Hell, I’ll give you a call” if the U.S. were to order a nuclear strike, but maintained that he only sent reassurance against such a strike on the orders of Trump’s defense secretary, Mark Esper.
At issue in the Senate hearing were questions about U.S. strategy for withdrawal in Afghanistan, including an implicit debate between senators about the merits of the war in Afghanistan and U.S. efforts there over the past 20 years.
Austin called the U.S. withdrawal a “logistical success” but a “strategic failure,” while Milley said that “strategic decisions have strategic consequences” of the lessons learned in the war.
House lawmakers are expected to further scrutinize the records of each of the military leaders, including whether there should be further punishment from Biden on his top national security advisors.
Questions about whether Biden lied in an August ABC News interview when he said “no one” advised him to keep troops in Afghanistan before the fall of Kabul, as well as calls Milley conducted with his Chinese counterpart, are also likely to rankle House members as they did in the upper chamber.