Hawley said that the hearing thus far had been "extraordinary," and summed up what he'd learned.
"Number one, the president of the United States lied to the American people about the advice that you gave to him about the military judgment that you provided for him. I think you've all testified to that effect, now, repeatedly," Hawley said collectively to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, Austin, and General Kenneth McKenzie.
"Secondly, the State Department and maybe the White House appear to push back the evacuation to such a time that it became a catastrophe, apparently, against your advice, although I'd like to learn more about that.
"And third, for some reason, we still don't quite understand the Pentagon failed to plan for the potential collapse of the Security Forces or the collapse of the Afghan government, despite there being quite a lot of warnings. Senator Kaine referred to this earlier, quite a lot of warning for really, frankly, years that the Afghan security forces were ill-equipped, ill-trained, and frankly, not up to the job.
"I don't understand any of that. I'd like to explore those things with you in this round of the next but first, before I do, Secretary Austin," Hawley said, "I have to take issue with something you just said, I know this is an administration talking point. I've heard it out of the mouth of the Press Secretary and others, 'We are not leaving Americans behind.' That was your quote of just a minute ago. With all due respect, sir, you have left, past tense, Americans behind."
"We have no presence any longer in Afghanistan," Hawley said. "There were hundreds of Americans, and not just Americans, generally, civilians, you've left behind against the president's explicit commitment not to leave until all American citizens were out and to safety. That is not what happened. And now we have people who are desperately, frantically trying to get out of this country, coming to me coming to members of this committee, asking for help. They can't get that help. They're stuck behind enemy lines. So please don't tell me that we're not leaving Americans behind. You left them behind. Joe Biden left them behind. And frankly, it was a disgrace. Let me ask you this, though—"
"Thanks for your help," Austin interrupted, "and continuing to help get American citizens and Afghans who have helped us out of the country. But as you've seen, we've continued to facilitate—
"Well actually, I didn't ask you a question," Hawley interrupted back. "But since you seem to want to address the issue. So since you do, isn't it true that you've left Americans behind on August the 31st?"
"There are Americans, there were Americans that were still in in Afghanistan and there still are. We continue to work to try to get those Americans out," Austin said.
"Yeah, that that's a yes," Hawley said. "Let's not repeat, please, the frankly falsehood that we didn't leave Americans behind."
Hawley interrogated Austin on the evacuation plans. "You've alluded to, several times, the fact that the military was ready. You say this in your prepared remarks by late April, you say military planners who crafted a number of evacuation scenarios. You referred later in your marks to the fact that you were waiting for the State Department to make a decision about evacuations. NBC News is reporting this morning that the military wanted to begin evacuations earlier. But the State Department and the White House intervened and by May, the eight said, 'No, we're delaying the evacuation of our civilians.' Can you just help us get to the truth here? Was it your judgment and opinion that the evacuation of civilians should have begun before the middle of August?" Hawley asked.
"We provided our input to the State Department again, it is a call of the State Department to—" Austin said.
"I understand that Mr. Secretary, I'm asking for what your your judgment was. And I'm asking specifically about your testimony, that in April, you developed evacuation scenarios. And this is reported by multiple sources this morning in the news. So I just wonder, as of late April, was it was it your opinion that the evacuations of civilians should begin, should have begun before, should begin earlier than they did?" Hawley asked.
"We provided input to try to get out as many Afghans who have helped us along the way as early as possible, but again, the State Department made decisions based upon the fact that, even President Ghani had engaged them, and said, 'Hey, we're very concerned about the mass exodus of civilians from the from the country.'" Austin said.
Hawley then directed his questioning on this issue to Milley, asking: "Did you ever advise in the interagency process that the rapid withdrawal timeline that the White House, the Pentagon signed off on, General Miller proposed, effectively getting us to zero by the middle of July, that that would negatively impact any effort to get out our civilians? In other words, if we drawn down to zero by July, if we then had a, a civilian evacuation order, we'd be in a lot of trouble. Did you ever did you ever advise to that effect during the interagency process? Did you warn about that possibility of drawing down so quickly before a civilian evacuation was underway?"
"Yeah," Milley answered, "but it's more complicated in that. The the drawdown of the forces under Miller, those guys are advisors. They're not the NEO [Noncombatant Evacuation Operations] kind of guys."
"The NEO troops are Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Purpose Mag, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. That's what you need in order to do the NEO. Those are the plans I believe that the Secretary is referring to that were developed early on," Milley explained.
"And there's specific triggers that are required in the State Department, calls the time of the NEO. The Secretary, in fact, on the 12th of August, started pushing forward forces in orders. And on the 14th, the ambassador, Ambassador Wilson, called the NEO."
"Should that have been called earlier?" Milley asked. "That I think that's an open question that needs further exploration based on a series of meetings. But the April piece, and the drawdown of the advisors, that's a separate and distinct task, and the retrograde of those forces, those 2,500 advisors weren't the guys bringing out the American citizens anyway. Those were the advisors to the Afghan security forces."
"There were concerns that we raised throughout the interagency, that when those advisors, if the advisors were to stay, then there's a possibility that the Afghan security forces would hang in there. We all knew that when we pull the advisors out, when we pull the money out, that at some point in the future, most said it was in the fall, that the Afghan security forces were going to fracture and the government would collapse," Milley explained.
"The speed at which that happens in August is a different animal. The advisors are already gone by mid July, there is still a government there is still an Afghan army. And the assumption was that it would remain, and the mission was to keep the embassy open, secure the embassy, transition that off to contractors, and then all the military be out and it'd be a diplomatic mission in the money and over the horizon. None of that happened because that army and that government collapsed very rapidly," Milley told Congress.
"As soon as those indicators came in fracture, Secretary Austin, and others throughout the government executed and implemented a NEO plan, for which there was contingencies that were built," Milley explained. "There was a plan for a rapid collapse. And that was the NEO plan that gentle McKenzie had come up with. And that's what was executed.
"That's why those 6,000 troops could deploy as rapidly as they did," Milley said. "That's why all those aircraft showed up. That wasn't done without planning that was done with planning. And that was done from an operational and tactical standpoint, that was a success.
"Strategically, strategically, the war is lost the enemies in Kabul, so that you have a strategic failure while you simultaneously have an operational and tactical success by the soldiers on the ground. So I think we're conflating some things that we need to separate in this after-action review process so that we clearly understand what exactly happened," Milley said.