Top Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal

Bonnie Cash

The former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan told senators Tuesday he opposed a full withdrawal from the country and advised Pentagon leadership of his position, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters after a closed-door briefing with the general.

Gen. Scott Miller, who commanded U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan until July, told committee members he had informed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie he was “opposed to the total withdrawal,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.

“We heard enough to know that there are inconsistencies between what the administration has said and the truth,” Inhofe added at a news conference with committee Republicans. “Clearly, President Biden didn’t listen to all the military advice given.”

Tuesday’s classified briefing marked the Armed Services Committee’s first meeting on Afghanistan since the Taliban swept back to power in a matter of days in August, sending the the Biden administration scrambling to evacuate as many U.S. citizens and Afghan allies as possible before the president’s deadline for a full military withdrawal by Aug. 31.

Reports have previously indicated military leadership privately advised Biden against a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Tuesday’s briefing marked Miller’s first appearance before the committee since 2019, a session that also took place behind closed doors.

Biden and his top deputies have also vehemently defended his decision to withdraw, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a pair of contentious House and Senate hearings Monday and Tuesday.

In contrast to Blinken’s hearings — which at times descended into partisan bickering — senators in both parties emerged from Miller’s briefing praising the general’s candidness but making clear they continue to have questions about the withdrawal, including why the U.S.-trained Afghan forces collapsed so quickly and what the administration’s plan is to help Americans and Afghans continue evacuating now that the military withdrawal is complete.

“Very solid briefing,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said, highlighting that Miller deployed to Afghanistan multiple times so “he’s seen all the chapters along the way.”

“But it just pointed out how many more questions are to be answered and can only be answered after some pretty in-depth study,” Kaine added about the briefing. “Why did the Afghan National Security Forces fold so fast?”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) after the briefing reiterated his concerns about a lack of clear plan to help people left out of the military evacuations who still want to leave Afghanistan, saying he’s “deeply disappointed that there seems to be no plan that matches the urgency and danger of this moment to U.S. citizens and Afghan allies who put their lives on the line for us.”

“There are profoundly significant lessons to be learned, and we ought to learn them quickly,” Blumenthal added.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Miller also talked about “the need to do a very serious after-action report, as a military and as a nation, a lot of soul searching on lessons learned.”

But at least a couple senators expressed concern about the military’s ability to review itself. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said that while Miller answered “some key questions” about the withdrawal, she is calling for an “independent investigation into U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) agreed, saying, “I think it does need to be independent.”

The House Armed Services Committee included in its version of the annual defense policy a requirement for an independent commission to examine the 20-year war effort. The Senate’s version of the bill, which the Senate Armed Services Committee passed before Kabul’s collapse, does not have a similar provision, but the two versions of the bill will need to be reconciled after each chamber approves its bill later this month and next month.

Lawmakers are also expected to continue their probes. The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hear from Austin, Milley and McKenzie at an open hearing Sept. 28.

Inhofe also said senators would like Miller to testify publicly, but stressed “it’s not scheduled at this time.”

“I frankly think most of what was said by the general could be said in a non-classified setting and perhaps he will be testifying again,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) added.

Miller has not testified publicly since he was confirmed to lead the Afghanistan mission in 2018. Asked Monday why Tuesday’s briefing was closed, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that was the committee’s decision.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) declined Tuesday to answer any questions about the briefing, including why it could not be held in open session.

Tags Antony Blinken Elizabeth Warren Jack Reed James Inhofe Joe Biden John Kirby Joni Ernst Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Roger Wicker Tammy Duckworth Tim Kaine
See all Hill.TV See all Video