It’s been nearly one month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden’s order to leave by Aug. 31, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.
ABC News Special
This special dives into the chaotic events of recent weeks, from the U.S. moving personnel out of its embassy to the desperate Afghans who clung to planes in hopes of fleeing the country.
Top Pentagon leaders appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday and the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday amid bipartisan criticism of the chaotic withdrawal and on the failure to anticipate the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.
In their appearance Tuesday — the leaders’ first before Congress since the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, candidly admitted that they had recommended to Biden that the U.S. should keep a troop presence there, appearing to contradict his assertions to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
The Qataris have confirmed to ABC News that there were Americans on board the fifth evacuation flight from Kabul since the U.S. troop withdrawal.
“The State of Qatar is pleased to have worked with a number of parties on the ground as well as its international partners to make this flight possible,” a senior Qatari government official said in a statement to ABC News.
The government said the flight carried 235 passengers, which is the second-largest Qatari passenger evacuation flight since the Aug. 31 deadline.
The majority of passengers onboard were Afghan citizens, while there were also citizens from several other countries, the official said. The number of Americans onboard the flight is not yet known.
“Upon arriving to Qatar, the passengers will be transported to the compound facility currently hosting Afghan civilians and other evacuees,” the official said. “There, they will be able to take a COVID-19 test, rest and remain in Doha until departing to their final destinations.”
-ABC News’ Sohel Uddin
The House Armed Services Committee hearing has adjourned with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, closing out a second day of questions from congressional lawmakers on the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
Several Republicans dug into Milley and McKenzie saying they had recommended leaving approximately 2,500 troops behind as a residual force in Afghanistan, appearing to contradict Biden’s comments to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that the opinion of his military advisers was “split” and that he didn’t recall being told 2,500 troops would allow for a “stable” situation.
Austin repeated his acknowledgments of “uncomfortable truths” about the two-decade-old U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, of which he is a veteran, but was careful not to contradict the president.
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, nearly choked up when speaking in the House hearing on Afghanistan and offered some harsh words for Biden and the committee, which he said under both Democrat and Republican presidents cautioned against a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“I think most veterans feel heartbroken knowing the blood and the treasure spilled ended up in a ‘strategic failure,'” Bacon said, quoting witness Gen. Mark Milley. “I think we’re enraged by it.”
“Then to have the president come out and say that this was a success, and he had no regrets — this does not break our hearts, that makes us mad as hell,” Bacon continued.
“The fact that President Biden on ABC said that no one that he can recall advised him to keep a force of about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, it’s not true. We heard yesterday, and we’ve heard today that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the CENTCOM commander advise differently,” he said. “I have no other view to see this as a lie. A falsehood from our president — that makes us mad as hell too.”
Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., pushed back on Bacon’s interpretation of Biden’s interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, by focusing on the world “stable.”
“He was asked, could they stay there in a stable environment. That is the option he said wasn’t on the table, not because it wasn’t offered, but because it didn’t exist,” Smith said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Committee hearing he wouldn’t absolutely rule out sending troops back into Afghanistan, and added, “If we do, the military will provide good credible options to be able to do that and to be effective.”
While maintaining that he wouldn’t talk about his recommendation to President Biden on leaving a residual force, Austin said he “did not support staying in Afghanistan forever” and that keeping a presence there would have required more troops for force protection if the Taliban started attacking the U.S. military as it had promised to do.
“Let me be clear that I support the president’s decision to end the war in Afghanistan. I did not support staying in Afghanistan forever. And let me also say we’ve talked about the process that we used to provide input to the president,” Austin said.
“I will always keep my recommendations to the president confidential but I would say that in my view there is no, was no risk-free status quo option. I think that the Taliban had been clear that if we stayed there longer, they were going to recommence attacks on our forces,” Austin added.
“I think while it’s conceivable that you could stay there, my view is that you would have had to deploy more forces in order to protect ourselves and accomplish any missions we would have been assigned. It’s also my view, Mister Chairman, the best way to end this war was through a negotiated settlement and sadly that did not happen.”