On Tuesday 28th September, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, and Gen. Frank McKenzie about Afghanistan during a Senate Armed Services hearing (emphases within transcript mine):
[YouTube transcript edited 30 Sept, adjusted 1 Oct]
Sen Dan: “Thank you madam-chair, gentlemen this committee recognizes that your Constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the President, or resign if you don’t agree with his decisions and policies, like Secretary Mattis did, but I want to emphasize: you do not have a duty, constitutional or otherwise, to cover for the commander-in-chief when he is not telling the truth to the American people. With that I have a few questions that i’d like you to keep short concise answers to:
1) On August 18th in a media interview to the American people the president said that none of his military advisers told him that he should keep US forces in Afghanistan. General Milley, that was a false statement by the president united states, was it not?
Gen M: I didn’t even see the statement, to tell you the truth…
Sen Dan: I’m reading you a truthful statement….Look, I don’t have a lot of time: was that a false statement to the American people or not?
Gen M: I‘m not going to categorize the statement of the president of United States
Gen McK: I’ve given you my opinion on the matter, I’ve given you my judgement on it.
Sen Dan: I think we all know it was a false statement. Okay that’s number one
2) President also said if there’s an American citizen left behind in Afghanistan the military is going to stay until we get them out. General Milley…did that statement turn out to be true or untrue by the president?
Gen M: I think that was the intent but we gave him a recommendation on 25th of august to terminate the mission on the 31st of august
Sen Dan: Statement was untrue!
Let me make another, let me ask another question. General Milley, General Mckenzie.:
3) The president around the same time said, quote al qaeda was gone from Afghanistan, told the American people that. Was that true or not true, was al qaeda gone from Afghanistan in mid-august, true or not true?
Gen M: al qaeda is still in Afghanistan they were there in mid-august uh they have been severely uh disrupted and attributed over many many years, they are not..
Sen Dan: So it wasn’t true. General Mckenzie was that true or not?
Gen McK: al-qaeda was present in Afghanistan
Sen Dan: So it wasn’t true.
Let me let me make one final one.
4) The president called this entire retrograde operation “an extraordinary success”. General Miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion. General Milley was this Afghanistan retrograde operation an extraordinary success?
Gen M: There’s, there’s two operations senator
Sen Dan: Just yes or no. I have a lot of questions. Was this an extraordinary success ?
Gen M. Senator with all due respect there’s two operations there’s the retrograde which Miller was in charge of and there’s the neo which centcom was in charge of. The retrograde was executed and ended by mid-July uh with a residual force to defend the embassy the neo…
Sen Dan: You and i have discussed this! Would you use the term “extraordinary success” for what took place in august in Afghanistan?
Gen M: That’s the non-combatant evacuation and i think one of the other senators said it very well. It was a logistical success but a strategic failure and i think those are two different terms.
Sen Dan: I think here’s the problem, I think the whole world knows. This is the cover that Economist magazine – Biden’s Debacle – that had stories in it, articles in it called ‘the fiasco in Afghanistan’ – is a huge and unnecessary blow to America’s standing – that’s one article, ‘Joe Biden blames everybody else’ that’s another article, ‘China sees America humbled’ that’s another article – and gentlemen the problem here: these are not marginal misstatements by the president to the American people.
These are dramatic obvious falsehoods that go to the very heart of the foreign policy fiasco we have all witnessed. These are life and death deceptions that the president of the United States told the American people.
I have one final question, I might leave it because it’s a long one for the follow-up – but there’s the anger I‘ve never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this and it’s the combination of everybody knowing that this is a debacle, and yet people defending it as a quote “extraordinary success” and here’s the biggest: no accountability, no accountability!
You gentlemen have spent your lives and I’ve completely respected troops in combat you’ve been in combat you’ve had troops under your command killed in action you have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical and the american people
respect that up and down the chain where there are instances commanders get relieved up and down the chain we see it the McCain incident, the Fitzgerald incident, the AAV incident with the marine corps three-star, four-star flag officers all relieved of duty.