A senior Democratic lawmaker challenged the credibility of the top U.S. general and President Joe Biden's national security team in a parting blow ending Secretary of State Antony Blinken's two-day cycle of jousts with congressional Republicans.
"The notion that General Milley said that ‘nothing I or anyone else indicated a collapse of this army or this government in 11 days,' I just don't think that's true," Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing drew to a close.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley made that comment last month as U.S. forces poured into Kabul for a last-minute evacuation under the watch of the Taliban, which had seized the capital city following a blitz across the country. Biden's team has cited his characterization of the intelligence warnings to justify the idea that it drew up withdrawal plans that were reasonable based on the available information, but Kaine signaled his alignment with Republican colleagues who rejected that defense.
"If the administration really said, 'Nobody could see this coming,' then that probably suggests that the contingency planning for something that was a real possibility wasn't all that it should have been," said Kaine, the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president.
"Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that the government forces in Kabul would collapse when U.S. — while U.S. forces remained," Blinken said. "Nonetheless, we planned and exercised a wide range of contingencies. Because of that planning, we were able to draw down our embassy and move our remaining personnel to the airport within 48 hours."
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who led the Senate Intelligence Committee last year when Republicans controlled the Senate, set the table for Kaine's criticism.
"Just going back to the beginning of this year, obviously I can't quote the titles of the pieces, but suffice it to say, there are numerous pieces that would be categorized as, ‘It's gonna hit the fan,'" Rubio said. "I think any analysis of those pieces would have led anyone to that conclusion."
Rubio also faulted the administration for neglecting to change its withdrawal plans as the Taliban offensive unfolded over the summer months.
"Weeks before the fall of Kabul, you could see the Taliban was headed towards doing something they hadn't done before: They were going to isolate Kabul from the north, cutting off all the supply routes," Rubio said. "If, in fact, the people in charge of our foreign policy did not see all these factors and conclude there was a very real possibility of a very rapid collapse, then we have the wrong people making military and diplomacy decisions in our government."
Kaine stopped short of echoing Rubio's conclusion that "we have the wrong people analyzing this," but he acknowledged that he was making "the same point" that Rubio made.
"I know it wasn't the consensus opinion, and I know it wasn't the most likely possibility, but the possibility of a collapse was not 0% and it wasn't 1% and it probably wasn't 10," Kaine said. "That was always a fairly — it was a possibility that had to be grappled with."
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