US Secretary of Defense Austin: “No Regrets” over chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told lawmakers he had “no regrets” about how the US military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was carried out, despite the US-backed government’s quick overthrow and August 2021 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport which killed 13 US troops and at least 170 Afghan civilians.

On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee grilled the secretary of defense during a hearing to review the Pentagon’s fiscal 2024 budget. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who was serving in Afghanistan, pressed Mr. Austin about the chaotic disengagement there, spurred by the capture of Kabul by insurgent Taliban forces.

Mr Banks said retired Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who then headed US Central Command, said he deeply regretted how US involvement in Afghanistan ended.

“Do you regret the withdrawal?” asked Mr. Banks.

“I support [President Biden’s] Decision. I have no regrets,” the defense minister replied.

“Mr. Austin, that is very revealing,” said Mr. Banks.

In August 2022, General McKenzie told NPR that they had gotten more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan. Though he described those numbers as part of “good news,” it didn’t change the fact that a number of Afghans who worked closely with US troops — including those who risked their own lives — were left behind by the last US plane picked up.

“They had every expectation that we would put them out. We didn’t do that and we weren’t able to do that,” General McKenzie said. “It’s something that… haunts me to this day.”

GOP lawmakers also criticized what they described as a lack of accountability by civilian or military leaders for the course of the disengagement from Afghanistan. Mr Banks asked what would happen to a naval captain of a ship that ran aground.

“Usually that captain gets removed,” said Mr. Austin.

When asked if anyone in the Pentagon’s chain of command was ever blamed for the collapse of the 20-year war effort in Afghanistan, Mr. Austin replied, “To my knowledge, no.”

Mr. Austin, who appeared with Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, told the panel he was proud of the “tremendous work and sacrifice” made by US troops during the war.

On a very different subject, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, questioned Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley about reports of child drag shows at U.S. military posts such as Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and Joint Base Langley-Eustis nearby from Norfolk. Va.

“Drag shows are not something the Department of Defense endorses or funds,” Mr. Austin told the congressman.

After Mr Gaetz read out a list of news articles detailing drag shows being put on at US military bases, General Milley asked if he could get a copy so he could “find out what’s actually going on there”. .

“This is the first time I’ve heard of such things,” said General Milley. “I’d like to see that because I don’t agree with it.”

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