Pentagon chief: Biden admin should’ve notified Congress ‘earlier’ on deadly Syria strike

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
Greg Nash
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin answers a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 to discuss the President’s FY 2024 budget for the Department of Defense and Future Years Defense Program. (Greg Nash)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday conceded that the Biden administration should have notified Congress “earlier” than it did about a deadly drone attack on U.S. forces in Syria last week. 

The admission comes after several Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans admonished Pentagon leaders for not quickly notifying Congress of the Iran-backed attack that killed an American contractor and plans for a retaliatory strike, calling the delay “unacceptable.” 

More than 13 hours passed between the 6:38 a.m. drone attack and lawmakers being notified around 8 p.m. on Thursday local time, the same time U.S. officials also told lawmakers of retaliatory preparations.  

“It is unacceptable that no one informed the Senate of this attack in a timely manner,” ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said during a committee hearing.  

Wicker also pointed out that during the delay, senators were debating amendments to a bill that would repeal two authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF), including two amendments about Iranian aggression toward American troops. 

“Do you agree that it should have occurred to someone … to inform senators who were debating about Iran last Thursday about what had occurred with regard to attacks in Syria?” Wicker asked. 

“We should’ve notified you earlier,” Austin replied. “Our goal is to make sure that we keep you informed and we will do everything within our power to make sure that we improve our performance.” 

Later in the hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pressed on the connection between the notifications and the AUMF vote, insisting that the administration didn’t want to delay passage of the bill by revealing information on the strike, an accusation that Austin flatly denied.  

“Secretary Austin, I don’t believe you,” Cotton responded. “I believe that your office specifically withheld notification of this deadly strike against Americans” due to an amendment offered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that “directly touched on exactly this scenario … That’s what I believe, nothing you can say is going to change my belief about that.” 

“I just want to say, senator, that that is absolutely not true,” Austin replied.  

“Maybe you didn’t personally do it, but I believe entirely that people in your office did that,” Cotton responded. “I believe there was a conscious decision made not to inform Congress because you fear that it might lead to the passage of the Rubio amendment, which would kill the entire bill.” 

Tags Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Marco Rubio Roger Wicker Roger Wicker Tom Cotton

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