Washington, D.C. – During today’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on “Ending the U.S. Military Mission in Afghanistan,” Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley about the consequences of withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, and also defended General Milley’s patriotism and service to our nation.
Watch her line of questioning here and see the transcript below:
REP. LIZ CHENEY:Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. General Milley, on January 6th we had a violent attack on our Capitol. It was an effort to stop the constitutionally prescribed process of counting electoral votes — the first time in our nation’s history that we did not have a peaceful transfer of power. In the aftermath of that attack, many of the members of our constitutional system failed to do their duty. Many of them punted. Many of them today are still attempting to obstruct the investigation into that attack, attempting to whitewash what happened. General Milley, you found yourself in your constitutionally prescribed role, standing in the breach. And for any member of this committee, for any American to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our Constitution, your loyalty to our Constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command is despicable. I want to apologize for those members of this committee who have done so, and I want to thank you for standing in the breach when so many, including many in this room, failed to do so.
With respect to Afghanistan, the only question for us with respect to the deployment of forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else is: what does U.S. security require? In the circumstances we found ourselves in Afghanistan, the deployment of our forces was allowing us to conduct counterterrorism operations, counterintelligence operations, enabling us to prevent terrorists from establishing safe havens. General Milley, terrorists now have an entire country of Afghanistan. Could you tell the committee whether or not you think the current situation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of forces, which began with the Doha Agreement and the orders that you have described in the Trump Administration, which was carried out in the Biden Administration, can you tell the committee whether or not you think we are now more safe or less safe — whether Afghanistan presents more of a threat or less of a threat to our homeland than when we were able to conduct counterterrorism, counterintelligence operations there?
CHAIRMAN MARK MILLEY: I think right now, right this minute, we are more safe because of the efforts over the last 20 years. However, I do think that conditions are more likely than not to develop over the course of time that will allow for the reconstitution of al Qaeda and/or ISIS. And that time varies depending on which analyst you’re listening to but sometime between, say, six to twelve and maybe 36 months.
REP. CHENEY: And when you look at the situation that we face today, in terms of what is going to be necessary — the loss of life, the loss of treasure has been tragic, has been devastating. But when you look at where we are likely to find ourselves, do you think that our ability to defend ourselves will now be more expensive, will cost us more in terms of lives and treasure going forward, or do you believe that the withdrawal will present a situation where we have to devote less resources to the War on Terror?
CHAIRMAN MILLEY: I think the ends are going to remain the same to protect the American people, but the ways and means are going to change. And I think it is going to become much more difficult now in order to conduct counterterrorism operations against a reconstituted al Qaeda or ISIS in Afghanistan. Not impossible. We have the capability, the means to do that, but it will be more difficult.
REP. CHENEY: Secretary Austin, are members of the Haqqani Network still a potential target of the United States military?
SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN:We do recognize that members of the Haqqani Network are recognized terrorists, yes.
REP. CHENEY: So, they are a potential target for the United States military?
SECRETARY AUSTIN: Potentially, yes.
REP. CHENEY: So, Secretary Austin, the Biden Administration has been saying that the Doha Agreement is still in effect and that they will hold the Taliban to their, “counterterrorism,” commitments in the Doha Agreement, but the Taliban is using this agreement to protect terrorists. The Taliban is intertwined with the Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda has, in fact, sworn bay’ahto the Taliban. So, can you explain exactly how that agreement, that’s enabling terrorists, is going to be useful as some kind of a tool to hold the Taliban to any kind of a commitment?
SECRETARY AUSTIN:I think we should do everything within our power to keep pressure on the Taliban to do what they said that they were going to do, and we heard what they said. We will watch their actions. But I think we should continue to apply pressure wherever possible to cause them to keep al Qaeda activity in check. And again, you’ve heard us say a couple of times today that we recognize that this is the Taliban, and trust is not an issue here, necessarily. We hear what they’re saying. We’re watching what they do.
REP. CHENEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, my time has expired.