Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton grilled Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley during a Tuesday hearing.
Cotton probed both Milley and Austin about what President Joe Biden had been advised to do concerning the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and whether or not he had heeded the advice.
Cotton asked the generals whether they had advised Biden to keep a small contingent of American troops in Afghanistan — they declined to speak about actual conversations they had with the president, however they agreed they had been in favor of leaving 2500 troops on the ground.
Cotton then inquired about Biden’s claim that his military leaders had not advised him to leave any troops in Afghanistan. “Is that true?” he asked Austin.
“Senator Cotton, I believe that – first of all, I know the president to be an honest and forthright man, and secondly –” Austin began.
“It’s a simple question, Secretary Austin,” Cotton interrupted. “He said no senior military leader advised him to leave small troop presence behind. Is that true or not? Did these officers’ and Gen. Milley’s recommendations get to the president personally?”
“Their input was received by the president and considered by the president for sure,” Austin said, adding that he could not comment specifically on conversations with the president.
“It’s shocking to me. It sounds like maybe their best military advice was never presented personally to the President of the United States about such a highly consequential matter,” Cotton replied.
Cotton then turned to Biden’s claim that his top generals had unanimously recommended that no troops should be left in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal was complete, demanding to know when that unanimous recommendation had been made.
“Secretary Austin, was anybody asked before September 5 if we should keep troops at the Kabul airport?” Cotton directed his question to Austin.
“The president asked us to provide an assessment whether or not we should extend our presence beyond August 31, and as Gen. Milley just said, that assessment was made. We tasked them to make that assessment on the 25th and he came back and provided his best military advice,” Austin agreed.
Cotton finished by turning back to Milley and asking why then if he had in fact advised the president to continue to have a military presence in Afghanistan, had he not resigned when Biden ignored that advice leading to catastrophic results.
“Gen. Milley, I can only conclude that your advice about staying in Afghanistan was rejected. I’m shocked to learn that your advice wasn’t sought until August 25 on staying past the August 31 deadline,” Cotton said. “I understand that you’re the principal military adviser, that you advise, you don’t decide, the president decides. If all of this is true, Gen. Milley, why haven’t you resigned?”
“Senator, as a senior military officer, resigning is a really serious thing. It’s a political act if I’m resigning in protest,” Milley pushed back, saying that his job was to give advice and then to follow legal orders. “The president doesn’t have to agree with that advice. He doesn’t have to make those decisions just because we’re generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken.”