Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at a news briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., August 18, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that he may issue a subpoena demanding his testimony after the Pentagon chief refused to attend a congressional hearing.
“I’m very disappointed that Secretary Austin declined our request to testify today. A full accounting of the U.S. response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon, especially when it comes to the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and funded Afghan military,” he said.
Austin was asked to testify during Tuesday’s committee hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Democratic lawmaker added in his statement that Austin’s absence “will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees.”
“I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future, and if he does not I may consider use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of these last 20 years to testify,” Menendez added.
Since the botched military departure and subsequent evacuation from Afghanistan, which resulted in over a dozen American soldier fatalities and hundreds of Afghan fatalities, Menendez has decried the defense and state department leaders responsible for overseeing it, including Blinken and Austin. Mendenez called the chaotic operation “clearly and fatally flawed.”
Not anticipating the rapid collapse of the Afghan regime and army, the U.S. rushed over the course of two weeks to airlift hundreds of thousands of American citizens, SIV applicants, refugees, and other personnel out of the war-torn country to safety amid the Taliban’s takeover.
According to Blinken’s testimony Monday, roughly 100 Americans and thousands of legal permanent residents, otherwise known as green card holders, remain in Afghanistan. Per an arrangement the U.S. secured with the Taliban, these individuals are permitted to leave through the airport. Last week, a commercial flight with a number of foreign nationals on board departed from Afghanistan, the first since the Taliban declared its new regime and rule
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