The House hearing on the US withdrawal in Afghanistan just wrapped.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and head of US Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie were grilled on the House Armed Services Committee about the decisions they made before, during and after the evacuation effort in Kabul.
The top military leaders testified on Tuesday in the Senate for the first time before Congress since the full exit of US troops from Afghanistan.
According to his written testimony as obtained by CNN on Wednesday, Milley detailed four key dates that went into the planning and execution of the Afghanistan evacuation and withdrawal. Milley did not deliver the comments on camera, but defended his action’s in today’s hearing, while acknowledging that the US military did not predict that the Afghan government would collapse so quickly.
The Biden administration has been criticized for not having plans ready to carry out the withdrawal of forces and the evacuation of US citizens and others. Milley pushed back on that criticism by laying out some of the key events in the planning around Afghanistan.
He referenced these four dates:
April 28: The top military leaders, including Milley, the Defense Secretary, the Joint Chiefs, the commander of US Central Command and others held an Afghanistan Retrograde Rehearsal within the Defense Department. This event focused on the withdrawal of US forces.
“The main purpose of this rehearsal was to ensure shared understanding of President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan and coordinate and synchronize the efforts of DoD, our allies, and partners,” Milley said.
May 8: All relevant Cabinet members held an interagency table top exercise about the withdrawal of forces.
“This event covered a rehearsal of concept for the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and covered various branch plans and sequels. It was to ensure that the US Government, Interagency, and partners and allies had a shared vision of our withdrawal timeline, the plan itself, and to ensure it was synchronized.”
June 11: One month later, the Joint Staff held a table top exercise for a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO), including senior officials from across the interagency. Officials looked at a series of “key milestones” for a NEO, as well as contingency in case of an embassy closure, intermediate staging base locations, and the process for sorting and screening evacuees.
Aug. 6: Senior government officials carried out another table top exercise to look at the possibility of a civilian evacuation under two different conditions: one where the surrounding environment posed some challenges to the evacuation and one where the surrounding environment made it incredibly difficult.