Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cannot “confirm or deny” that there are still 4,000 U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan, he testified to Congress on Tuesday.
Austin appeared before the Senate Armed Forces Committee alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command. The trio was tasked with explaining how President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan turned from “safe and orderly” to deadly and frantic.
Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe pressed Austin on how many U.S. citizens remain in the county. He cited the State Department’s original assertion that there were 10,000-15,000 citizens in the country as the evacuation got underway. Austin and Milley have also stated that they succeeded in evacuating roughly 6,000 U.S. citizens. (RELATED ‘My Loyalty Is Absolute’: Milley Slaps At Media, Defends Chinese Phone Calls)
“That would mean a minimum of 4,000 would still be there now. Would anyone disagree?” Inhofe said.
He met with several seconds of silence.
“By your silence, I assume you agree,” he said.
Austin then interjected, saying it was not his personal belief that there are still thousands of U.S. citizens stranded in Afghanistan.
“I personally don’t believe that there are 4,000 American citizens still left in Afghanistan, but I cannot confirm or deny that, Senator,” Austin said.
Austin and Milley’s full testimony can be viewed below.
Austin’s statement came moments after McKenzie undercut Biden’s claim that no one had advised him to maintain a presence of 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“Senator, again I won’t share my personal recommendation to the president but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation,” McKenzie said, responding to questions from Inhofe. “I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time.”
“I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and eventually the Afghan government,” McKenzie added.
McKenzie went on to say he was confident that Biden heard the recommendations.
“I was present when that discussion occurred,” McKenzie said. “I’m confident that the president heard all of the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully.”