The Senate Armed Services Committee got some answers Tuesday from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command.
Most questions from senators focused on the Biden administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, but they also wanted to know about Milley’s now infamous calls to his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, while Donald Trump was still president.
“How many American citizens in your opinion are still there?” Inhofe, the committee’s ranking member, asked about Afghanistan.
The military leaders indicated they aren’t sure how many American civilians remained behind after the military evacuation.
Austin at first deferred the question to the State Department.
Inhofe noted that early estimates by Secretary of State Antony Blinken were that between 10,000 and 15,000 Americans were left behind.
“They evacuated some 6,000. That would mean a minimum of 4,000 would still be there now. Would anyone disagree with that?” Inhofe asked.
After a few seconds, the Oklahoma Republican said: “By your silence, I assume you agree.”
Austin addressed the question, but not with a direct answer.
“I personally don’t believe that there are 4,000 American citizens still left in Afghanistan, but I cannot confirm or deny that, Senator,” Austin said.
After the chaotic evacuation and the deaths of 13 U.S. service members, Biden characterized the retreat from Afghanistan as an “extraordinary success.”
Later in the hearing, Blackburn asked: “Is leaving Americans behind an extraordinary success?”
Austin answered: “We are not leaving Americans behind.”