The Political Blame Game For Failures Of The Afghan Withdrawal Has Begun Two days of congressional testimony from the country's top military leaders has put the battle for that narrative on center stage.

The Political Blame Game For Failures Of The Afghan Withdrawal Has Begun

The Political Blame Game For Failures Of The Afghan Withdrawal Has Begun

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Two days of congressional testimony from the country's top military leaders has put the battle for that narrative on center stage.


Who is to blame for the shambolic U.S. exit from Afghanistan? NPR's Claudia Grisales reports on two days of congressional testimony from top military leaders.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren says it's time to zoom out on the failures in the war in Afghanistan.


ELIZABETH WARREN: It is not possible to understand our final months in Afghanistan without viewing them in the context of the 20 years that led up to them.

GRISALES: That's Warren at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. She was questioning top military leaders, including General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, both testifying for the first time since the chaotic exit from Afghanistan.


WARREN: Anyone who says the last few months were a failure but everything before that was great clearly hasn't been paying attention.

GRISALES: Democrats defended President Biden's decision to end the war and pointed to President Trump's ordering of a withdrawal.


TIM KAINE: Thanks to President Biden for ending the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan after 20 years. It took guts, and it was the right thing to do.

CHRIS MURPHY: We heard also about the impossible position that President Biden inherited.

ADAM SMITH: President Biden had the courage to finally make the decision to say, no, we are not succeeding in this mission.

GRISALES: That's Democratic Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, along with House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith. Marine General Frank McKenzie, who oversees U.S. Central Command, conceded to lawmakers that a 2020 deal under the Trump administration with the Taliban, known as the Doha agreement, weakened the Afghan government and hastened its collapse.


FRANK MCKENZIE: The primary accelerant to lowering morale and general efficiency of the Afghan military was what they saw coming on the heels of the Doha agreement, what they believe was forced upon them.

GRISALES: But Republicans are saying the ultimate blame falls on Biden, noting the chaotic withdrawal, the 13 U.S. military lives lost in a terrorist attack in Kabul and a mistaken U.S. drone attack that left 10 Afghan civilians dead.


RICK SCOTT: The president has absolutely blamed everyone else but himself for the botched withdrawal of Afghanistan. He is president of the United States.

MIKE ROGERS: What's more infuriating is that all this could have been avoided if the president had a plan.

JOE WILSON: And I believe the president should resign.

GRISALES: That's Florida Senator Rick Scott, ranking House Armed Services Republican Mike Rogers and South Carolina's Joe Wilson. Even as Republicans were looking to blame Biden, Milley signaled there's plenty of political and military leaders who helped lead the U.S. to this moment.


MARK MILLEY: There's been, you know, four presidents, 20 commanders on the ground, seven or eight chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, you know, dozens of secretaries of defense, et cetera.

GRISALES: And their impact stretched back two decades.


MILLEY: That outcome is the cumulative effect of 20 years, not 20 days.

GRISALES: Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst asked Milley if the United States is at greater risk today from a terror attack because of the exit.


MILLEY: Too early to tell.

JONI ERNST: Too early to tell.

MILLEY: Yeah, I think we've got about - you know, to elaborate a little bit, probably got about six months here to really sort this out and see which direction things are going to go.

GRISALES: Any new fallout from Afghanistan in the coming months means the debate on which political leaders ultimately take the blame won't be settled for a long time to come.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington.


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