U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., responded to the testimony provided by senior defense officials at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his remarks, he called out comments from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that U.S. credibility had not been damaged as a result of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“He somehow was able to say with a straight face to the cameras and to the members of the committee that we still had a very, very strong international reputation and credibility had not been damaged. But there’s no question about it,” Wicker said.
“This president has ignored the best advice of his military advisers. And as a result, 13 of our troops are dead. Many innocent Afghans are dead. Our credibility is very much tarnished and Americans are less secure because of that,” Wicker said.
Wicker’s remarks follow a second round of questions to the panel where he pressed the senior defense officials on the rapid retraction of U.S. military support that preceded the collapse of the Afghan military, U.S. plans to redeploy to Afghanistan, and President Biden’s decision to ignore conditions set by the Trump Administration for a U.S. withdrawal.
In a response to Wicker, General Kenneth McKenzie, Commander, U.S. Central Command, confirmed that only an estimated five percent of Afghan troops were trained to fight without U.S. support. He also said the U.S. decision to withdraw had a profound psychological effect on the Afghan military.
“Our eventual decision to get out by a certain date, I think the Afghans were very weakened by that morally and spiritually,” McKenzie said.
Wicker also pressed Secretary Austin on reports that he had counseled President Biden in March that there could be “dire outcomes” if the U.S. were to withdraw support from Afghanistan. In the report from The New York Times, Austin was said to have drawn “comparisons to how the Iraqi military was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 after American combat troops left Iraq, prompting Mr. Obama to send American forces back.”
Austin confirmed that “there are lessons to be learned from Iraq” and that “some of the same kinds of things [that happened in Iraq] could transpire” in Afghanistan. He also denied that there were any plans for U.S. forces to return.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Wicker directed General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to correct the record on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Milley confirmed to Wicker that President Trump accepted the advice of his military advisers and rescinded his original order until certain conditions could be met by the Taliban. Milley also confirmed that President Biden gave the order to withdraw from Afghanistan even though no additional conditions had been met by the Taliban from the time President Trump rescinded his original order to withdraw.