Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that he doesn't "have any regrets" about the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in the fall of 2021.
"I support the president's decision," the Washington Examiner reported Austin saying while testifying about President Joe Biden's 2024 defense budget request and answering questions for Republicans critical of his actions. "I don't have any regrets."
U.S. forces ended 20 years of war in that country, pulling troops out on Aug. 30, 2021, Reuters reported at the time.
The exit, however, was marked by chaos as Afghan citizens tried to hang onto U.S. aircraft leaving the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul.
"There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure," U.S. Marines Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of the U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon news briefing at the time. "We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out."
Just days before that exit, 13 U.S. service members, along with 170 Afghan civilians, were killed at a gate at the airport by a suicide bomber attack from the terrorist group ISIS-K.
"The investigation found that a single explosive device killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members by explosively directing ball bearings through a packed crowd into our men and women at Abbey Gate," McKenzie told Department of Defense News in February 2022. "The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire either U.S. or Afghan. This conclusion was based upon the careful consideration of sworn testimony of more than 100 witnesses, and especially those witnesses and Observation Towers — both American and British — who were in locations unaffected by the blast, and that had commanding views of the scene before, during, and after the explosive attack."
The Taliban launched a major military offensive as the U.S. forces withdrew, taking huge swaths of territory, eventually including Kabul itself.
Austin said Wednesday that the United States was able to rescue 124,000 from the airfield during the withdrawal, but acknowledged to the committee that no one in the military or elsewhere has been held accountable, the Examiner report said.
McKenzie told the Examiner Wednesday that he believes the committee's oversight into the Afghanistan issue was "a good thing."
"Well, I would hope that — first of all, I think it's a good thing," he said in the report. "I think oversight is a good and necessary thing. So I think it's commendable that we're doing this. I think that that's the function that the Congress provides. I would hope that as they execute this oversight, they will do several things. First, they will examine the totality of the war, which lasted over 20 years and involved multiple administrations."
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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