Milley set to testify at Afghanistan hearing: What to know

Retired Gen. Mark Milley, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair, is set to testify on Tuesday at a high-stakes House committee hearing on the Biden administration’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Milley will testify at the 1 p.m. Foreign Affairs Committee hearing along with retired Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the former head of U.S. Central Command, the combat command center that oversees American troops across the Middle East region.

For Milley, the congressional testimony will be his first since retiring at the end of last year as the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.

Now that he is out of office, lawmakers may try to pry out of Milley a more candid assessment of the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the hearing.

Milley, McKenzie have previously discussed regrets over Afghanistan

Milley and McKenzie have testified before on the Afghanistan pullout, including shortly after the fact.

In September 2021, both generals told a Senate committee they recommended maintaining a small force in Afghanistan instead of a full withdrawal.

In this past September as he was preparing to exit his post, Milley said the withdrawal was a “strategic failure” and that he has “lots of regrets.”

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it. That didn’t end the way any of us wanted it,” he told ABC News. “In the broader sense, the war was lost.”

McKenzie told NPR in 2022 he has regrets about the withdrawal and was upset that the U.S. was not able to get everyone out from the country.

“That’s something that haunts me to this day,” he said.

House investigating Biden’s Afghan withdrawal

The hearing comes as House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is investigating the pullout in what has become a bitter feud with the Biden administration.

McCaul last month threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress for what he says is a failure to turn over all the required documents related to the withdrawal.

Earlier this month, McCaul said he was postponing holding Blinken in contempt after the secretary agreed to send him the documents. The two have battled over documents since January 2023.

McCaul said those new documents will “provide crucial information” for his investigation.

He has been requesting interview notes from the State Department’s After-Action Review (AAR) of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which he says will provide first-hand accounts of the August 2021 events.

The AAR, released last summer, detailed failures in the Trump and Biden administrations that contributed to the chaotic withdrawal.

The review, conducted over 90 days, faulted senior officials for a failure to prepare for worst-case scenarios or listen to dissenting opinions on the matter.

Republicans have long been upset with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was plagued by a messy evacuation for U.S. citizens and Afghans fleeing the country, who were seen clinging to the wheels of transportation aircraft in a desperate bid to leave.

On the ground, the Taliban quickly swept to power as American forces left. And 13 U.S. service members died after ISIS-K suicide bombers targeted Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport.

Congress has also held hearings on Afghanistan with testimony from service members, including an emotional one last year involving former Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews.

The former Marine testified he was “plain and simple” ignored after requesting to take out a target that would later be confirmed as the suicide bomber near Abbey Gate.

House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) opened an investigation into the concerns raised by Vargas-Andrews.

Administration has been defensive

The GOP has criticized President Biden for poor planning and a hasty withdrawal, but the administration has downplayed its responsibility.

Last spring, the White House put out a 12-page document that largely pins the blame on the Trump administration, accusing its predecessors of poor planning that emboldened the rise of the Taliban.

“President Biden had committed to ending the war in Afghanistan, but when he came into office he was confronted with difficult realities left to him by the Trump Administration,” the report said.

The Biden administration also said Trump’s administration had created a backlog of Special Immigrant Visas that hampered evacuation efforts.

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby fended off criticism when pressed by reporters last spring.

“For all this talk of chaos, I just didn’t see it. Not from my perch,” Kirby said.

The Biden administration did acknowledge it should prepare better for needed evacuations from countries.

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