(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 Tuesday — the leaders’ first before Congress since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted 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:
Oct 08, 10:04 am
Suicide bombing during Friday prayers kills scores
A suicide bombing at a mosque in the city of Kunduz, about 200 miles north of Kabul, has left scores of people dead or wounded.
According to Kunduz provincial spokesman Matiullah Rohani, the attack was carried out during Friday prayers while the mosque was packed with worshippers.
At least 60 people were killed and 100 injured, officials said, though the exact number was not immediately clear and is expected to climb. A health official at the Kunduz provincial hospital told ABC News that it had received 26 bodies.
-ABC News’ Aleem Agha
Oct 05, 3:18 pm
UK officials meet senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan
United Kingdom officials have traveled to Afghanistan to meet senior Taliban members, the U.K. Foreign Office said Tuesday.
“The Prime Minister’s High Representative for Afghan Transition, Sir Simon Gass, and Chargé d’Affaires of the UK Mission to Afghanistan in Doha, Dr Martin Longden, traveled to Afghanistan today to hold talks with the Taliban,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. “They met senior members of the Taliban, including Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund and Mawlawi Abdul-Salam Hanafi.”
The statement said the diplomats “discussed how the UK could help Afghanistan to address the humanitarian crisis, the importance of preventing the country from becoming an incubator for terrorism, and the need for continued safe passage for those who want to leave the country. They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls.”
“The government continues to do all it can to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave, and is committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan,” it added.
-ABC News’ Sohel Uddin
Oct 03, 12:54 pm
5th Qatari evacuation flight, with Americans onboard, takes off from Kabul
The Qataris have confirmed to ABC News that there were Americans on board the fifth evacuation flight from Kabul since the U.S. troop withdrawal.
“The State of Qatar is pleased to have worked with a number of parties on the ground as well as its international partners to make this flight possible,” a senior Qatari government official said in a statement to ABC News.
The government said the flight carried 235 passengers, which is the second-largest Qatari passenger evacuation flight since the Aug. 31 deadline.
The majority of passengers onboard were Afghan citizens, while there were also citizens from several other countries, the official said. The number of Americans onboard the flight is not yet known.
“Upon arriving to Qatar, the passengers will be transported to the compound facility currently hosting Afghan civilians and other evacuees,” the official said. “There, they will be able to take a COVID-19 test, rest and remain in Doha until departing to their final destinations.”
-ABC News’ Sohel Uddin
Sep 29, 2:50 pm
House hearing adjourned
The House Armed Services Committee hearing has adjourned with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, closing out a second day of questions from congressional lawmakers on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
Several Republicans dug into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving approximately 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan, appearing to contradict Biden’s comments to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that the opinion of his military advisers was “split” and that he didn’t recall being told 2,500 troops would allow for a “stable” situation.
Austin repeated his acknowledgments of “uncomfortable truths” about the two-decade-old U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, of which he is a veteran, but was careful not to contradict the president.
Sep 29, 1:30 pm
GOP lawmaker, an Air Force veteran, blasts Biden for alleged ‘falsehood’ on residual troops
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, nearly choked up when speaking in the House hearing on Afghanistan and offered some harsh words for Biden and the committee, which he said under both Democrat and Republican presidents cautioned against a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“I think most veterans feel heartbroken knowing the blood and the treasure spilled ended up in a ‘strategic failure,'” Bacon said, quoting witness Gen. Mark Milley. “I think we’re enraged by it.”
“Then to have the president come out and say that this was a success, and he had no regrets — this does not break our hearts, that makes us mad as hell,” Bacon continued.
“The fact that President Biden on ABC said that no one that he can recall advised him to keep a force of about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, it’s not true. We heard yesterday, and we’ve heard today that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the CENTCOM commander advise differently,” he said. “I have no other view to see this as a lie. A falsehood from our president — that makes us mad as hell too.”
Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., pushed back on Bacon’s interpretation of Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, by focusing on the world “stable.”
“He was asked, could they stay there in a stable environment. That is the option he said wasn’t on the table, not because it wasn’t offered, but because it didn’t exist,” Smith said.
Sep 29, 12:57 pm
Defense secretary says he ‘did not support staying in Afghanistan forever’
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing he wouldn’t absolutely rule out sending troops back into Afghanistan, and added, “If we do, the military will provide good credible options to be able to do that and to be effective.”
While maintaining that he wouldn’t talk about his recommendation to President Biden on leaving a residual force, Austin said he “did not support staying in Afghanistan forever” and that keeping a presence there would have required more troops for force protection if the Taliban started attacking the U.S. military as it had promised to do.
“Let me be clear that I support the president’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan. I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever. And let me also say we’ve talked about the process that we used to provide input to the president,” Austin said.
“I will always keep my recommendations to the president confidential but I would say that in my view there is no, was no risk-free status quo option. I think that the Taliban had been clear that if we stayed there longer, they were going to recommence attacks on our forces,” Austin added.
“I think while it’s conceivable that you could stay there, my view is that you would have had to deploy more forces in order to protect ourselves and accomplish any missions we would have been assigned. It’s also my view, Mister Chairman, the best way to end this war was through a negotiated settlement and sadly that did not happen.”
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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