General Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth McKenzie gave testimony on Tuesday before the United States Senate Committee on the Armed Services. The long awaited testimony brought questions on what was known by military and administration leaders, when it was known, and what recommendations were by those military officers to the White House.
"I can only conclude that your advice about staying in Afghanistan was rejected," Cotton said at the end of his questioning. "I'm shocked to learn that your advice wasn't sought until August 25 on staying past the August 31 deadline. I understand that you're the principal military advisor that you advise, you don't decide, the President decides. But if all this is true, General Milley, why haven't you resigned?"
"Senator," Milley replied, "as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. It's a political act if I'm resigning in protest. My job is to provide advice, my statutory responsibilities, provide legal advice, or best military advice to the President. And that's my legal requirement. That's what the law is."
"The President doesn't have to agree with that advice," Milley said. "He doesn't have to make those decisions just because we're generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken."
"This country doesn't want generals figuring out what orders we're going to accept and do or not, that's not our job," Milley told Cotton. "The principles of civilian control of the military is absolute. It's critical to this republic, in addition to that, just from a personal standpoint, you know, my dad didn't get a choice to resign, in Iwojima, and those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don't get a choice to resign, and I'm not going to turn my back on them."
"I'm not going to resign, they can't resign, so I'm not going to resign," Milley said. "There's no way. If the orders are illegal, we're in a different place. But if the orders are legal from civilian authority, I intend to carry them out."
Cotton had asked Milley what his recommendations were to the President, and when they were made. Milley said that his "assessment was back in the fall of '20. And it remained consistent throughout." Milley said "that we should keep a steady state of 2,500. And it could bounce up to 3,500, maybe something like that, in order to move toward a negotiated gated solution."
"Did you ever present that assessment personally to President Biden?" Cotton asked.
"I don't discuss exactly what my conversations are with the sitting President in the Oval Office, but I can tell you what my personal opinion was and I am always candid," Milley said.
"General McKenzie, do you share that assessment?" Cotton asked.
"Senator, I do share that assessment," McKenzie said.
What Cotton wanted to know what if and when these men shared their assessments with the President. His reasoning behind this was that "in an interview with George Stephanopoulos" last month, Biden "said that no military leader advised him to leave a small troop presence in Afghanistan. Is that true?" Cotton asked. "Is that true or not?" Cotton pressed "Did these... recommendations get to the president personally?
"Their input was, was received by the president and considered by the President," Austin said, "for sure. In terms of what they specifically recommended, Senator, they just as they just said, they're not going to provide what they recommended in confidence."
"I mean, it sounds to me, this is it's shocking to me, it's not to me like maybe their best military advice was never presented personally to the President of the United States about such a highly consequential matter. Let me move on to another recommendation they reported to have made." Cotton said. "General Milley, Joe Biden has said that it was unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs that we not maintain a military presence beyond August 31. We've heard testimony that effect today as well. When was that unanimous recommendation sought and presented to the President?"
"You turn about the 31 August? So we're getting on 25. August, I was asked to make an assessment provide best military advice—" Milley answered. Cotton pressed for specificity. "On August 25, I was asked to provide best military assessment is whether we should keep military forces past the 31st," Milley said.
"Secretary Austin, was anybody asked before August 25 if we should keep troops at the Kabul airport?" Cotton asked.
"This is the president tasked us to provide an assessment on whether or not we should extend our presence beyond August 31," Austin said. "And as General Milley just said, that assessment was was made, we tasked him to make that assessment on the 25th. And he came back and provided his best military advice."
"Kabul fell on August 15," Cotton said. "It was clear that we had thousands of Americans— clear to members of this committee. We're getting phone calls that we had thousands of Americans in Afghanistan behind Taliban lines on August 15. And it took 10 days to ask these general officers. If we should extend our presence?I suspect the answer might be a little different. If you're asking them 16 days out, not five days out."
"I want to move on to another matter," Cotton said. "President Biden's botched evacuation screwed things up coming and going as it relates to Afghan evacuees. We left behind thousands of Afghans who service alongside of us who were vetted and approved to come here. We've run out thousands who really have no particular connection about him, we know nothing, and cannot be effectively vetted. You now have female troops who have been assaulted, you have Afghan evacuees committing sex crimes at Fort McCoy. What what are we to make of this? What steps are we taking to ensure that thousands of Afghans about who we know nothing are not going to be a menace to our troops and our military bases and to the communities into which there has to be released?"
"Well, Senator, I'm certainly aware of the allegations," Austin said. "And I take the the allegations very seriously. And I can assure you that our commanders at our bases have what they need to be able to protect our troops and our families that that work and live at those bases. And I, I'm in contact with General van Herk, the Northcom commander who has overall responsibility for the for the operation on a routine basis. And and this is an area that he remains sighted on."