More Capitol Hill testimony from top US military leaders on Afghanistan exposes partisan divide

The trio of top military leader face a second day of grilling on Capitol Hill
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Top military leaders appear Sept. 28 before the Senate
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (center) appears before the Senate Sept. 28.
(Stefani Reynolds-Pool / Getty Images)

Top U.S. military officials returned Wednesday to Capitol Hill for another round of questions about Afghanistan, highlighted early by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith lecturing GOP colleagues about their attempts to criticize President Biden and the White House about the U.S. military's chaotic withdrawal last month. 

Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the committee's top Republican, said Biden "misled us more than once," and referred to the president as "delusional" for attempting to call the evacuation efforts anything but an "unmitigated disaster." 

On Tuesday, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and one of the three leaders testifying this week, referred to the withdrawal a "logistical success but a strategic failure."

He and the other officers – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command – told lawmakers their advice to President Biden to leave a small number of troops in the region was not implemented.

During the opening of Wednesday's hearing, Austin and Milley delivered remarks similar to those Tuesday.

McKenzie, who did not deliver opening remarks Tuesday, once again took responsibility for the post-withdrawal U.S. drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians including seven children. 

While there are concerns on both sides of the aisle about the execution of the withdrawal, partisan divisions about casting blame runs deep.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of incompetence. Democrats believe the late-August withdrawal was doomed before it began – following 20 years of presence in the region.

Some senior Democratic lawmakers, however, including Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has alleged that Biden and Trump officials "lied" to Congress and misled the American people about how quickly a Taliban takeover might take.