Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has shared that he has “no regrets” over the way in which the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, during which 13 service members and hundreds of civilians were killed in a suicide bombing attack near the Kabul airport.
Austin made the admission before lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on March 29 during a hearing to discuss President Joe Biden’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2024.
During his testimony, Austin was asked by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who has served in Afghanistan, whether he had any regrets about the withdrawal from the country after the leader of the U.S.-backed Afghan government fled and the capital city of Kabul was captured by the Taliban.
“Secretary Austin, last week, General McKenzie repeated that he has many regrets about the botched, deadly, and embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan and that he supports investigations into that withdrawal,” the Republican lawmaker said.
“A moment ago, you said you executed the President’s order, you didn’t tell us what you advised the President to do, but do you have regrets about the withdrawal from Afghanistan?” Banks asked, to which Austin responded, “I support the president’s decision.”
‘I Don’t Have Any Regrets’
Banks then asked again whether Austin had specific regrets over the way in which the withdrawal occurred or the death of the service members.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Austin, who appeared at the hearing alongside Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Mark A. Milley, replied.
“Secretary Austin, that is very telling,” Banks responded.
Earlier this month, McKenzie told reporters during a press briefing that he was proud of the way that American troops evacuated 124,000 people from Kabul but will forever have regrets over the suicide attack that killed U.S. service members and around 170 Afghan civilians.
ISIS Khorasan, also known as ISIS-K, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The collapse of the Afghan government was not the result we desired when we began our withdrawal,” he said. “That said, the courage and hard work of several thousand service members under difficult and dangerous conditions, which allow the evacuation of 124,000 U.S. partners and Afghan nationals is something the nation can be very proud of.”
“It came at the terrible costs of 13 U.S. service members and over 100 Afghan civilians killed. And that is a loss that I deeply regret. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. We owe these heroes our gratitude,” McKenzie added. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about August of last year and the loss of our 11 Marines, one soldier and one sailor there,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie reiterated his comments in an interview with the Washington Examiner last week where he said he supports the GOP-led probe into Biden’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal, saying that oversight is a “good and necessary thing.”
GOP Lawmakers Probe Withdrawal
House Republicans are currently investigating Biden’s abrupt evacuation from Afghanistan and have sought documents regarding the withdrawal from the administration.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) subpoenaed Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this week, asking him to deliver a copy of the July 13, 2021 “Dissent Channel cable” which reportedly warned that the administration was not properly prepared for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country.
“So I think it’s commendable that we’re doing this. I think that that’s the function that the Congress provides. I would hope that as they execute this oversight, they will do several things. First, they will examine the totality of the war, which lasted over 20 years and involved multiple administrations,” McKenzie told the Washington Examiner of the probe.
“They will examine all of the agencies of the executive branch that participated in these operations over this 20-year period. Then, I hope they would also examine their own responsibilities over the 20-year period,” he said.
Biden has repeatedly defended the turbulent withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating that the cost to the United States would have been higher if soldiers had remained in the country amid the ongoing conflict.
Asked on Wednesday if anyone within the Department of Defense has ever been held accountable for the chaotic withdrawal, from Afghanistan, Austin replied, “To my knowledge, no.”
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