Austin, Milley, and McKenzie face the music in two days of hearings on Biden's flawed Afghanistan withdrawal

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MUST-SEE TV: The Senate Armed Services Committee will be the stage this morning for what is expected to be vigorous, if not at times hostile, cross-examination of the Biden administration’s top military leaders over the chaotic 17-day evacuation from Afghanistan and the plans for future counterterrorism operations with no U.S. troops on the ground.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and U.S. Central Commander Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie will all appear before the Senate committee at 9:30 a.m. and then will be back tomorrow for an encore performance before the House Armed Services Committee.

The hearing is expected to go longer than the usual three hours or so, as Republicans promise a “methodical review” of President Joe Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal from Afghanistan ordered by President Donald Trump in his last year in office.

INHOFE READY FOR BATTLE: Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the committee, has teed up an exhaustive list of questions for the Pentagon, which he outlined in a detailed letter he sent to Austin last week. Two weeks ago, Inhofe revealed that in a classified briefing, former U.S. Afghanistan Commander Gen. Scott Miller testified that he opposed the full withdrawal but was never able to convey that advice directly to Biden.

“President Biden and his advisers didn’t listen to his combat commander. He didn’t listen to Congress. And he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen,” Inhofe says in remarks prepared for his opening statement. He’ll argue Biden’s failure to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan “expanded the threat of terrorism and increased the likelihood of an attack on the homeland.”

“There is no plan. We have no reliable partners on the ground. We have no bases nearby. The Afghan government is now led by terrorists with long ties to al Qaeda,” Inhofe will say. “And we’re at the mercy of the Pakistan government to get into Afghanistan airspace. Even if we can get there, we can’t strike al Qaeda in Afghanistan because we’re worried about what the Taliban will do to the Americans still there.”

Asked last week about Inhofe’s request for dozens of internal documents concerning the withdrawal plans, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “We take all congressional correspondence seriously and will respond appropriately,” and he added that Austin was “looking forward” to the opportunity to be able to “answer some of those very questions.”

MILLEY UNDER FIRE: Milley will likely face additional questions about his actions in the last months of the Trump administration, based on revelations in the book Peril by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

In the book, Milley is depicted as working to thwart Trump, who he considered to be in “serious mental decline,” from starting a war or launching nuclear weapons, in a way that may have undermined the bedrock principle of civilian control of the military.

Specifically, Milley is accused of ordering officers in the National Military Command Center not to carry out any orders to launch nuclear weapons without checking with him, and promising his Chinese counterpart he would tip him off if Trump were to order military action against China, something Trump says he never considered.

Milley is expected to argue that he acted “in the lawful tradition of civilian control" and did not exceed his authority or violate his oath to the Constitution. Austin is expected to testify that he has full confidence in Milley, whose job appears to be in no danger.

CLICK HERE TO READ: HOW STRONG IS THE CASE AGAINST GEN. MARK MILLEY?

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HAPPENING TODAY: All eyes will be on room G50 of the Dirksen Senate Office building for the command performance by Austin, Milley, and McKenzie, which will begin with open testimony at 9:30 a.m. and then may continue behind closed doors.

“They will know that they're earning their four stars,” said former Defense Secretary William Cohen on CNN last night. “There's going to be a lot of incoming.”

Cohen’s advice as someone who’s been there: “I would recommend they remain cool and calm and confident and also remain concise, not drag out their answers because the one thing that will alienate members of Congress is if they think you're stonewalling.”

But Cohen also warns the senators not to be so aggressive that they come off as bullies. “We found that out during the Iran-Contra committee investigation when Col. Oliver North was sitting as a witness, and he was sitting in his uniform with all his decorations that he had received, and members of Congress looked like they were piling on a patriot.”

“Most people in this country still revere our military, most of them admire those who have gone into battle, have sacrificed, and been willing to sacrifice life and limb.”

TRUMP: ‘MILLEY IS AN IDIOT’: At his rally in Perry, Georgia, Saturday night, former President Donald Trump blamed Gen. Mark Milley for what he described as “a mad rush” out of Afghanistan.

“Milley is an idiot. I got to know him. He’s an idiot, OK,” Trump told the crowd. “They moved the military out first. ‘Let’s get the military out, and then after that, we’ll negotiate for hostages. OK. And let’s leave them $85 billion in America’s finest weapons and latest equipment,’” he said, mocking what Milley supposedly advocated.

“He abandoned hundreds of American citizens in enemy occupied territory, and the press is trying to play the whole situation down like it never took place because they are among the most corrupt people in this country.”

TRUMP SAYS HE HAD A BETTER PLAN: At the rally, Trump laid out how he would have conducted the withdrawal under the agreement he negotiated with the Taliban.

“We would’ve never moved our military out first. We would’ve never. They would’ve gone last. First Americans, then are people that deserve to come out of which, by the way, the people that came out are not the ones that they were talking about,” Trump told the crowd. “We would’ve bombed our five bases, and we were going to occupy Bagram for a long time to come, and it would’ve been so good.”

Trump did not explain how the U.S. would hold the Bagram air base once U.S. troops were gone, or for that matter, how the Afghan government would have been able to fight the Taliban without the small arms, body armor, ammunition, and armored vehicles that Trump implied he would not have left behind.

REVISIONIST HISTORY: While Republicans in Congress and former Trump administration officials, such as Mike Pompeo, have argued that Trump’s complete withdrawal was “conditions based” and contingent on the Taliban keeping up their end of the bargain, which included promises to reduce violence and engage in good faith peace negotiations, documents quoted in the book Peril belie that account.

On Nov. 11, two days after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Trump sent a terse memo over to his acting replacement Chris Miller. It was titled: “Withdrawal from Somalia and Afghanistan.”

“I hereby direct you to withdraw all U.S. forces from the Federal Republic of Somalia no later than 31 December 2020 and from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan no later than 15 January 2021. Inform all allied and partner forces of the directives. Please confirm receipt of this order.”

Miller and Milley were once again blindsided by a Trump directive they had no idea was coming. It was a direct order from the commander in chief to get all the troops out in two months, something the Pentagon considered logistically impossible to do in an orderly fashion.

‘“This is really fucked up, and I’m going to go see the president. I’m heading over,” Milley reportedly said. At the White House, Milley confronted national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who said he had “no idea” about the order.

O’Brien talked to Trump and then told Milley, “It was a mistake. The memo was nullified.”

NORTH KOREA TALKS PEACE, FIRES OFF ANOTHER MISSILE: For the third time this month, North Korea has fired a short-range ballistic into the sea, accordion to the South Korean military

The missile firing came just days after North Korea floated the possibility of resuming talks with the South if it were to drop its "double standards."

In response to an overture by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in to consider a declaration ending the 1950-1953 Korean War, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, said, “What needs to be dropped is the double-dealing attitudes, illogical prejudice, bad habits, and hostile stand of justifying their own acts while faulting our just exercise of the right to self-defense,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“Only when such a precondition is met, would it be possible to sit face to face and declare the significant termination of war and discuss the issue of the north-south relations and the future of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.

AIR FORCE AND RAYTHEON CONDUCT SUCCESSFUL HYPERSONIC MISSILE TEST

NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE: Here are the latest national security nominees as released by the White House.

  • Douglas Bush to be an assistant secretary of the Army

  • Carrie Frances Ricci to be Army general counsel

  • Ashish Vazirani to be a deputy undersecretary of defense

  • Shannon Corless to be assistant treasury secretary for intelligence and analysis

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The Rundown

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Reuters: Kremlin Says NATO Expansion In Ukraine Is A ‘Red Line’ For Putin

South China Morning Post: U.S. Sends Warships Through South China Sea In Latest Transit

CBS News: China Says U.K. Warship In Taiwan Strait Shows "Evil Intentions"

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Forbes: Opinion: Move To Replace F-35 Fighter Engine Probably Isn’t Affordable

Calendar

TUESDAY | SEPTEMBER 28

9:30 a.m. G50 Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: “The conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations,” with Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense; Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander, U.S. Central Command. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings

10 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace virtual discussion: “What Russia's New Mediterranean Posture Means for NATO,” with EU ambassador to Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Morocco Marc Pierini, CEIP visiting scholar; Kristina Kausch, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office; Maxim Suchkov, senior fellow and associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations; and Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. Register at https://carnegieeurope.eu/events/forms

10 a.m. — Korea Economic Institute virtual discussion, “North Korea in a Nutshell: A Contemporary Overview,” with Kongdan Oh, member of the KEI Board of Directors; and Troy Stangarone, senior director at KEI https://keia.org/event/north-korea-in-a-nutshell

10 a.m. — Heritage Foundation virtual discussion: “Securing America's Waters,” with Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz. https://www.heritage.org/defense/event

10:45 a.m. — Atlantic Council and the Korea Foundation virtual conference: “Recommendations for the U.S.-ROK alliance,” with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Mark Lambert. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event

2 p.m. — Government Executive Media Group virtual forum” “State of the Air Force," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. Register at https://d1stateofdefense.com/register

WEDNESDAY | SEPTEMBER 29

8:45 a.m. National Harbor Marina — Defense Strategies Institute 2021 Military Tactical Communications Summit with Col. Jeff Mrazik, deputy chief of the Air Force Advanced Battle Management System Cross Functional Team. Register at https://dsigroup.org/

9:30 a.m. 2118 Rayburn — House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Ending the U.S. Military Mission in Afghanistan,” with Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense; Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander, U.S. Central Command. https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings

9:30 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: “Recent developments on the Korean Peninsula,” with Sydney Seiler, national intelligence officer for North Korea at the National Intelligence Council. https://www.csis.org/events/korea-chair-capital-cable-34-sydney-seiler

1 p.m. — Center for Security Policy discussion: “Emboldened Iranian State-Sponsored Terrorism in the Raisi Era,” Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y.; Marshall Billingslea, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing; Victoria Coates, senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and a former deputy national security advisor on the National Security Council staff; and Simone Ledeen, visiting fellow in the National Security Institute at George Mason University's Scalia Law School, and a former deputy assistant Defense secretary for the Middle East. https://centerforsecuritypolicy.org/events

THURSDAY | SEPTEMBER 30

9:30 a.m. G50 Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to receive testimony on Afghanistan, with Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies senior editor, The Long War Journal, and Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and former senior advisor to U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings

11 a.m. — International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War virtual discussion: “"Eliminating the Existential Threat of Nuclear Weapons.” Undersecretary-General and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu; Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Shekhar Mehta, president of Rotary International; and Ruth Mitchell, board chair of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Register at https://www.ippnw.org/eliminating-the-threat

FRIDAY | OCTOBER 1

10 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual event, “ A Conversation with Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks,” with Nina Easton, CSIS senior associate; and Beverly Kirk, fellow and director for outreach, International Security Program, and director, CSIS Smart Women, Smart Power Initiative. https://www.csis.org/events/conversation


QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I am the guy that pulled the baby over the wall, and it’s definitely, probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Hunter Clark, speaking at a Trump rally in Perry, Georgia, Saturday night.

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Original Author: Jamie McIntyre

Original Location: Austin, Milley, and McKenzie face the music in two days of hearings on Biden's flawed Afghanistan withdrawal

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