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Senate Foreign Relations chair: Defense Sec. Austin declined to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez threatens to subpoena Pentagon chief, if he doesn't testify.

Updated: September 14, 2021 - 3:06pm

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin refused to testify on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and he threatened to issue a subpoena if Austin doesn't agree to testify in the near future.

Menendez made the comments during a hearing Tuesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the Biden administration's handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal of U.S. military troops in Afghanistan after 20 year in that country.

"I'm very disappointed that Secretary Austin declined our request to testify today," said Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. "A full accounting of the U.S. response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon — especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S. trained and funded Afghan military. His decision not to appear before the committee will affect my judgement on Department of Defense nominees."

The Afghan military collapsed in mid-August as the last of the U.S. troops were leaving by an Aug. 31 deadline, resulting in the Taliban seizing control of the country and a chaotic evacuation of Americans. During the evacuation, there were 13 U.S. service members killed by a suicide bomber.

"I expect that the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future," Menendez said. "If he does not, I may consider the use of the committee's subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of these last twenty years to testify."

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the committee's top Republican, said the committee has many questions for Austin and also called on him to testify. 

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