Rep. Matt Gaetz launched into a scathing cross-examination of Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during their Wednesday testimony on the chaotic and deadly US withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that if President Biden wasn’t so “addled,” the military leaders would have been fired.
As Milley and Austin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee, Gaetz (R-Fla.) started his line of questioning by asking Milley to answer for his previous comments that the Taliban would not be able to defeat the Afghan military.
“You really blew that call, didn’t you, General?” Gaetz said.
“You spent more time with Bob Woodward on this book than you spent analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghanistan government was going to fall immediately to the Taliban, didn’t you?” Gaetz accused Milley, holding up a copy of the new book “Peril,” which claimed the general went behind then-President Donald Trump’s back to deal with China — assuring Beijing officials he would warn them of any planned military actions his commander-in-chief planned.
“Not even close,” Milley fired back.
“Oh really?” Gaetz pushed. “’Cause you said right after Kabul fell that no one could have anticipated the immediate fall of the Ghani government. When did you become aware that Joe Biden tried to get Ghani to lie about the conditions in Afghanistan? He did that in July. Did you know that right away?”
“I’m not aware of –” Milley began.
“You’re not aware of the phone call that Biden had with [then-Afghan president Ashraf] Ghani where he said, whether it is true or not, we want you to go out there and paint a rosy picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan? You’re the chief military adviser of the president,” the Florida congressman said.
Soon after, Gaetz condemned Milley and Austin, saying he doesn’t believe they will resign, after the two, along with Gen. Frank McKenzie, told Congress on Tuesday that they have not submitted letters of resignation.
“You seem to be very happy failing up over there,” Gaetz condemned the military leaders. “But if we didn’t have a president that was so addled, you all would be fired because that is what you deserve.”
“You have let down the people who wear the uniform in my district and all around this country. And you’re far more interested in what your perception is and how people think about you, and insider Washington books, than you care about winning.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, all three witnesses were called to review the 20-year Afghanistan war and the botched withdrawal that ultimately led to the deaths of 13 US service members.
It comes just one day after Milley, the top US military officer, acknowledged that Biden had been advised to leave at least 2,500 troops behind to prevent a rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — advice he ignored.
Republicans on the committee pointed to Milley’s testimony as evidence Biden had lied in an ABC interview last month when he denied that military advisers wanted troops to remain, telling George Stephanopoulos, “No one said that to me that I can recall.”
On Wednesday, Austin repeated his acknowledgment that the withdrawal went awry, and listed several reasons for the various failures.
Austin explained that the US “did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership” in the Afghan government, as well as the “damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations” by Ghani’s command.
“We did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban commander struck with local leaders in the wake of the Doha agreement,” he said, pointing to the “demoralizing effect” that had on Afghan soldiers.
Austin added that the US “failed to fully grasp” the limitations of the Afghan army.
In both hearings, Milley labeled the end of the mission in Afghanistan a “strategic failure.”
Given the contradiction with Biden’s previous statements, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked Milley if the president’s decisions led to that failure.
“I’m not going to judge a president, that’s the job of the American people,” Milley said, adding that there was a “cumulative effect to a series of strategic decisions” over the 20-year war that led to the chaos.