The following is a transcript of U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan's first round of questions to top military leaders testifying Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
Sullivan: Gentlemen, this committee recognizes that your constitutional duty is to follow the lawful orders of the president or resign, if you don't agree with his decisions and policies, like Secretary Mattis did. I want to emphasize you do not have a duty constitutional or otherwise to cover for the commander-in-chief when he is not telling the truth to the American people. With that, I have a few questions that I'd like you to keep short concise answers to.
Sullivan: On Aug. 18th, in a media interview to the American people, the president said that none of his military advisers told him that he should keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Gen. Milley, that was a false statement by the president of the United States, was it not?
Gen. Mark Milley: I didn't even see the statement to tell you the truth.
Sullivan: I'm reading you a truthful statement. That was that was a false statement. Yeah, I don't have a lot of time. Was that a false statement to the American people?
Milley: I'm not going to categorize the statement of the president of the United States.
Sullivan: Gen. McKenzie, was that a false statement? The president said none of his commanders said that he should keep troops in Afghanistan. Was that a false statement by the president? Remember, you do not have a duty to cover for the president when he's not telling the truth. Was that a false statement or not?
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie: I've given you my opinion on the matter. I've given you my judgment on it.
Sullivan: I think we all know it was a false statement, that's number one. The president also said if there is an American citizen left behind in Afghanistan, the military is not going to stay until we get them out. Gen. Milley, did that statement turn out to be true or untrue from the president?
Milley: I think that was the intent, but we gave him a recommendation on 25th of August to terminate the mission on the 31st of August.
Sullivan: The statement was untrue. Let me ask another question. Gen. Milley, Gen. McKenzie, the president around the same time said, “Al Qaeda was gone from Afghanistan.” He told the American people that. Was that true or not true? Was Al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan in mid-August? True or not true?
Milley: Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan. They were there in mid-August. They have been severely disrupted and distraited over many, many years. They are not.
Sullivan: So it wasn't true, Gen. Mackenzie. Was that true or not?
McKenzie: Al Qaeda was present in Afghanistan.
Sullivan: So it wasn't true. Let me make one final one. The president called this entire retrograde operation an “extraordinary success.” Gen. Miller in his testimony disagreed with that assertion. Gen. Milley, was this Afghanistan retrograde operation an extraordinary success?
Milley: There's two operations, Senator.
Sullivan: Just yes or no. I have a lot of questions. Was this an extraordinary success?
Milley: Senator, with all due respect, there's two operations. There's the retrograde, which Miller was in charge of and there's the neo, which Centcom was in charge of. The retrograde was executed and ended by mid-July with a residual force to defend the embassy.
Sullivan: You and I have discussed this. Do you, would you use the term "extraordinary success" for what took place in August in Afghanistan?
Milley: That's the non-combatant evacuation. And I think one of the other senators said it very well. It was a logistical success but a strategic failure. And I think those are two different terms.
Sullivan: Here’s the problem, I think the whole world knows. This is the cover of the Economist magazine: "Biden’s Debacle," that had articles in it calling "the fiasco in Afghanistan is a huge and unnecessary blow to America's standing." That's one article. "Joe Biden blames everybody else." That's another article. "China sees America humbled." That's another article.
Sullivan (continues): And, gentlemen, the problem here, these are not marginal misstatements by the president to the American people. These are dramatic, obvious falsehoods that go to the very heart of the foreign policy fiasco we have all witnessed. These are life-and-death deceptions that the president of the United States told the American people. I have one final question. I might leave it because it's a long one for the follow up. But here's the anger.
Sullivan (continues): I've never seen my constituents more angry about an issue than this. And it's the combination of everybody knowing that this is a debacle and yet people defending it as an “extraordinary success.” And here's the biggest thing, there’s no accountability. You, gentlemen, have spent your lives, and I completely respected this, as troops in combat. You've been in combat, you've had troops under your command killed in action.
Sullivan (continues): You have been part of an institution where accountability is so critical and the American people respect that up and down the chain. Where there are instances when commanders get relieved up and down the chain. We see it. The McCain incident, the Fitzgerald instant, the A.A.V. Incident with the Marine Corps, three star, four star flag officers all relieved of duty.
Sullivan (continues): But on this matter, on the biggest national security fiasco in a generation, there has been zero accountability, no responsibility from anybody.