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Pentagon Leaders to Face Congress      09/28 06:11

   In their first public testimony since the U.S. completed its withdrawal from 
Afghanistan, top Pentagon leaders will face sharp questions in Congress about 
the chaotic pullout and the Taliban's rapid takeover of the country.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In their first public testimony since the U.S. completed 
its withdrawal from Afghanistan, top Pentagon leaders will face sharp questions 
in Congress about the chaotic pullout and the Taliban's rapid takeover of the 
country.

   Republicans in particular have intensified their attacks on President Joe 
Biden's decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 30, saying it 
left the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism. They are demanding more details on 
the suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 13 American service members in the 
final days of the withdrawal.

   Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, are slated to testify Tuesday in front of the Senate Armed 
Services Committee and then on Wednesday before the House Armed Services 
Committee. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who as head of Central Command oversaw the 
withdrawal, will testify as well.

   The Senate committee's ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, has 
peppered the Pentagon with a lengthy list of questions about multiple aspects 
of the withdrawal, including the suicide bombing on Aug. 26 at Kabul's 
international airport that killed 169 Afghans in addition to the American 
service members. He also is demanding information about decision-making over 
the summer as it became apparent that the Taliban were overwhelming U.S.-backed 
Afghan forces.

   "We need a full accounting of every factor and decision that led us to where 
we are today and a real plan for defending America moving forward," Inhofe 
wrote last week.

   The withdrawal ended the longest war in U.S. history. The Biden 
administration, and some Democrats in Congress, have argued that former 
President Donald Trump bears some of the blame for the war ending in a Taliban 
victory, since his administration signed a deal with the Taliban in 2020 that 
promised a full American withdrawal by May 2021. They also have pointed to a 
yearslong U.S. failure to build an Afghan military that could stand up to the 
Taliban.

   "This is not a Democratic or a Republican problem. These failures have been 
manifesting over four presidential administrations of both political parties," 
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I, said the day after the Taliban took over Kabul on Aug. 
15.

   Although Tuesday's hearing was scheduled to focus on Afghanistan, other 
topics will likely come up, including Milley's actions during the final months 
of Trump's presidency.

   Some in Congress have accused Milley of disloyalty for what the book 
"Peril," by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, reported as assurances to a Chinese 
general that the U.S. had no plan to attack China, and that if it did, Milley 
would warn him in advance. In the days following news accounts of the book's 
reporting, Milley declined to comment in detail, instead telling reporters that 
he would lay out his answers directly to Congress. His only comments have been 
that the calls with the Chinese were routine and within the duties and 
responsibilities of his job.

   Both Milley and Austin have defended the U.S. military's execution of an 
Afghanistan withdrawal that Biden ordered in April. The pullout was largely 
completed by early July, but several hundred troops were kept in Kabul, along 
with some defensive equipment, to protect a U.S. diplomatic presence in the 
capital. The State Department initially said the diplomats would remain after 
the military withdrawal was completed by Aug. 31, but when the Afghan forces 
collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, leaving the Taliban in 
charge, a frantic evacuation began.

   The Pentagon has defended its execution of an airlift from Kabul airport 
that transported more than 120,000 people, while acknowledging that it got off 
to a chaotic start and was under near-constant threat of terrorist attack.

   "The Biden administration's avalanche of incompetence has damaged our 
international reputation and humiliated the United States on the world stage," 
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, both 
Republicans, wrote in the Des Moines Register. "Yet, our president and 
secretary of state continue to pretend that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was 
a historic success."

   Cotton and others have questioned the viability of U.S. plans to contain 
al-Qaida and the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate by using 
intelligence-collection assets and attack planes based outside of Afghanistan.

 
 
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