Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal blasted President Biden’s top Defense officials on Tuesday after grilling them on Afghan evacuations at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Speaking after the contentious hearing, Blumenthal complained to MSNBC that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave him ‘no real responses.’
‘There really was no clarity. And with all due respect to the Secretary of Defense, he provided no real responses to my questions because at the moment there aren’t responses,’ the Connecticut Democrat said.
‘There is nobody in charge. And undeniably, and he knows and so does every member of that panel, there’s a moral imperative here.’
Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen Mark Milley and US Central Command chief Gen Frank McKenzie sat before a Senate panel yesterday where they testified under oath for the first time since US military jets left Kabul.
All three are set to appear on Capitol Hill again today in front of the House Armed Services Committee.
During the Tuesday hearing, a visibly frustrated Blumenthal was largely focused on the status of the US evacuation effort after the military left.
Blumenthal was visibly frustrated at the Tuesday Senate hearing, telling Secretary Austin that there was no leadership on the current evacuation effort
He said he and other lawmakers were still in the dark on how many Afghan allies and US citizens were still in Afghanistan.
‘We don’t have an estimate on the number because no one is in charge right now,’ he said.
He called for Biden to establish an ‘evacuation czar’ to centralize rescue efforts.
Immediately after the evacuation a senior State Department official admitted that a ‘majority’ of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants had been left behind when the US left Kabul at the end of August.
Officials haven’t clarified the number. However, earlier this week the department confirmed that around 100 US citizens or permanent residents are still in Afghanistan and ready to leave the country.
Blumenthal, a military veteran, told MSNBC Tuesday that those Afghan allies left behind now ‘have targets on their back.’
‘They’re at risk of murder and torture, they’re in hiding and their situations are increasingly desperate,’ he said.
The senator added that he was one of several lawmakers working to help Americans and vulnerable Afghans escape.
‘My office turned into a kind of mini-evacuation center.’
But he revealed the complicated web of communication that’s led to little help from the Biden administration.
‘My senior staff and I were making phone calls. I called some of the very top officials in the White House, in the State Department. And members of the State Department pointed at the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense pointed at the White House,’ Blumenthal said.
‘Nobody in charge, and it’s a continuing challenge that we need to face because lives are at stake, lives of people who put their lives on the line for us.’
Blumenthal is among a majority of lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee who expressed dissatisfaction at the tight-lipped generals at Tuesday’s hearing.
Josh Hawley, a Republican senator for Missouri, said on Tuesday night that Milley and Austin must face the ax over their unrepentant appearances.
Blumenthal complained of a lack of clarity from the Biden administration on the continued Afghanistan evacuation efforts
Earlier in the day the country heard for the first time that the top generals advised the commander-in-chief to leave 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban takeover. Republicans accused President Biden of lying to the American people, because he repeatedly said that he was not recommended to keep troops in the country.
Hawley, speaking to Fox News’s Sean Hannity along with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said he was dismayed by the accounts of Milley and Austin.
‘Gen Milley doesn’t want any responsibility, Austin doesn’t want responsibility, and most of all, Joe Biden doesn’t want to take any responsibility, but it’s time that they did, which is why all those guys should resign,’ said Hawley.
‘Milley needs to resign, Austin needs to resign.’
Hawley said he was particularly angered by Milley’s admission on Tuesday that he spoke to journalist Bob Woodward, for his new book telling the story of the final stretch of the Trump administration.
‘I mean Milley, he’s sitting here trading gossip with Bob Woodward while Afghanistan literally burns, literally burns,’ said Hawley.
Former President Trump joined in criticizing the hearing himself, taking aim at embattled General Milley.
‘No wonder the Afghanistan withdrawal was such a disaster,’ Trump sent out in a statement on Tuesday evening. ‘General’ Milley spent all of his time talking to these Fake Book writers. That’s not a Soldier or General, that’s a Public Relations agent.’
‘America will continue losing with Milley and woke television Generals who are only looking to be stars!’