Austin, along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed members of the House and Senate during separate unclassified virtual conferences Sunday morning on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
The officials conveyed the U.S. was prepared for all scenarios, but Austin told the House he was “beyond disappointed” that Afghan forces offered little resistance in areas that were seized by the Taliban in recent days, a member who was on the call told Fox News.
After reflecting on the years of investing in training and equipping the Afghan army, Austin said, “You can’t buy willpower, and you can’t buy leadership,” the member said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley walk to greet U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, upon his return Wednesday, July 14, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool) (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Lawmakers are concerned that the modern equipment and weapons the U.S. provided to Afghan forces is now in the Taliban’s hands, the House member said. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was said to be irate during the call and questioned whether the U.S. border was secure, especially leading to the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Republican Rep. Jim Banks, who served in Afghanistan, tweeted while he was on the call that President Biden is “asleep at the wheel,” spending the weekend at Camp David, while the Taliban completes takeover.
“On the conference call briefing for members of Congress with Biden officials,” Banks wrote. “It’s clear the Biden administration was caught unprepared, didn’t anticipate this catastrophe and the President is hiding & asleep at the wheel.”
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, called the situation “an embarrassment” to the country.
“The many Ohioans who passed and thousands more who served in Afghanistan deserve far better than to see us being chased from the country by the Taliban as we thoughtlessly withdrawal,” he tweeted. “This is an embarrassment to our country and President Biden owes the families who sacrificed so much for this mission so much more.”
Biden’s “America is back” foreign policy promise is facing scrutiny after the Taliban entered Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee and the U.S. Embassy to be evacuated. In a statement Saturday, President Biden appeared to blame former President Donald Trump for setting a May 1 troop withdrawal date and leaving the Taliban “in the strongest position militarily since 2001.” Biden said the deadline forced him to choose between sending more troops or pulling out.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed that sentiment on CNN Sunday morning, saying that had thousands of U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan past the deadline, then “attacks would have resumed on our forces” and “we would have been back at war with the Taliban.”
Democrats who were in the briefing Sunday morning called for a pause in political analysis of the situation and stressed that getting Americans and Afghan allies out of the area was a top priority.
“There will be much analysis of our Afghanistan experience, but right now, I am gravely concerned for the safety of our Afghan partners who served side-by-side with our troops, our diplomats, our development professionals, and our partner forces to carry out our mission,” House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement,
“There will be plenty of time to Monday morning quarterback, but right now, we need the airport in Kabul open to all traffic, including civilian charters,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., wrote. “The US military must ensure the safety of that critical location. Without that protection, Afghans who upheld our values but didn’t work directly for us will die. US security at the airport is critical and we need a declarative, public statement to that effect, given the chaos.”