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Top Generals In Charge Of The Chaotic U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Back In 2021 Are Testifying On Capitol Hill; House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing Devolves Into Political Blame Game Over Afghanistan Withdrawal; Colonel Collins Emphasizes Long-Standing Issues In U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan Dating Back To Early 2000s; General McKenzie Acknowledges Challenges In Evacuating American Citizens And Dual Citizens From Afghanistan; Congressman Crow Highlights Complexities In Evacuating American Citizens And Afghan Allies During Crisis; Supreme Court Allows Texas To Enforce Controversial Immigration Law; Texas Given Green Light To Enforce SB4, Allowing Local Law Enforcement To Arrest Suspected Undocumented Immigrants; Major Decision By Supreme Court Paves Way For Texas To Take Immigration Enforcement Into Its Own Hands; Supreme Court Ruling Sparks Debate Over States' Rights Versus Federal Authority In Immigration Enforcement; Former ICE Official Expresses Shock At Supreme Court's Decision To Allow Texas Immigration Law To Proceed. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2024 - 14:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We are monitoring breaking news this afternoon on CNN News Central. Top generals in charge of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan back in 2021 are testifying on Capitol Hill. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and former Commander of U.S. Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie are testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That's right. Both laid some blame for the chaos on the State Department. And its choice not to call for evacuations soon enough. Let's listen back in.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS' CHAIRMAN: I'm not sure, even today, about the accuracy of all those numbers.

UNKNOWN: Are they in jail? Dead? Some of them? MILLEY: I think some were killed. Afghans. I don't know about the

Americans. I don't think the Americans were. But I think some of the Afghans were tracked down. That worked with us. And I think some of them were killed. And I'm pretty certain some of them in pretty brutal ways. Some were managed to escape through various means. Others have just laid low and keeping their heads down. UNKNOWN: Gentlemen, as time has expired, the chair recognizes Mr.


REP. BRAD SHERMAN, (D) CA: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I wish we were having a hearing with these excellent witnesses on what's on people's minds, which is what's going on in Gaza. Where we could discuss the incredible difficulties of urban warfare and how the top expert on urban warfare at West Point has said that Israel has done at least as good a job as any other military in minimizing civilian casualties, given the incredible difficulties of urban warfare. Instead, we have what appears to be a highly politicized hearing trying to blame Biden. And this hearing began with the title Biden's Strategic Failure. It's my understanding that our witnesses refused to testify with that title. In any case, they should have. We've now retitled the hearing, but we haven't repurposed it. It continues to be politicized.

But a highly partisan hearing shouldn't be held if you're in the party that made most of the mistakes. Let us we had let's put this in context. We had a real dispute as to whether we should leave 25 000 or so American servicemen there for perhaps this decade in the following decade. The dissent cable argued for that. A lot of the foreign policy establishment argued for that. But Trump promised the American people every single American soldier would be out. And from that point, we had no bargaining position.

That's why Khalid, the Chief negotiator said that it was well known by 2018, by the end of 2018 that we are hellbent to get every person out. And so what kind of agreement did we enter into in Doha? Supposedly by the best negotiator in the world. Then President Trump. It is an agreement that says it's okay for the Taliban to treat 12 year old girls like sex slaves. No provision prohibits that. Nothing prohibits the Taliban from killing people because they're part of the LGBT community. Nothing prohibits them from killing someone because they convert from Islam to Christianity. All they're required to do is talk to the Afghan government.

They talked perhaps and then they assumed total power and we could do nothing about it because we had promised the American people that absolutely every soldier would be out. And of course, right before the election, Trump promised to have them all back by Christmas of 2020. The Trump administration lost fifty nine of our servicemen, 152 of our contractors accomplishing absolutely nothing.


We surrendered in 2020. We could have surrendered in 2017. But perhaps the most extreme partisanship has arised when so many members of this committee have attacked President Biden, supposedly for not bringing back the, quote, $85 billion, I think it's closer to $8 billion, of equipment that we left behind. Now, this equipment was in the hands of Afghans who had plenty of use for it. They could keep it for their own defense. They could sell it to the Taliban. They did not choose to bring it back to us and return it. So I'll ask General Milley. Had we -- was there a way for us to go could go all around Afghanistan and demand the return of our equipment. This is assuming, I realize that at the time we hoped that the Afghan armed forces would use that to resist the Taliban. But if we had realized that they were going to cave immediately, could we have taken that equipment away from all these Afghans with no casualties?

MILLEY: No, of course not.

SHERMAN: So we would have incurred very substantial casualties if we had done what so many on the other side of the aisle have suggested, and that's somehow get back our equipment. Now, how does our withdrawal from Afghanistan compare to our withdrawal from well, actually, I have another question. Biden came in in January 2021. Was there a comprehensive plan at that time to both withdraw absolutely every one of our servicemen, because that was the promise Trump had made to the American people, while withdrawing in an organized way with no American casualties? Was there a complete plan ready to go at that time?

MILLEY: So two points, and then I'll go back to the equipment just very quickly. As I recall, and I think it's laid out in the CIGAR's report, the special IG for Afghanistan, it's about $80-some-odd billion worth of military aid total. That's everything from food and building barracks and uniforms and boots, to include equipment over 20 years. And then he cites, I think it's $7.2 billion, of military equipment, U.S.-manufactured military equipment that is with the Afghan security forces. That's Afghan-owned equipment, not American equipment. Every piece of American equipment that the American military owned came out with us with Scott Miller, or he destroyed it on sight. And that's a fact. So the idea that the Americans

SHERMAN: So this attack on Biden for not taking the equipment back is total bunk.

UNKNOWN: Chair recognizes Mr. Wilson, South Carolina.


KEILAR: All right, we are watching the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which obviously was a disaster as it happened in the summer of 2021. But we're seeing this devolve, obviously, into a political event. And I guess that's not surprising here in an election year. Let's bring in someone who really knows the story of the entire war, retired Army Colonel Liam Collins. He is a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, including in the month following the September 11th attacks. He's also the co-author of Understanding Urban Warfare. And Colonel, you've been watching the hearing. I just wonder, you know, what your observations are of what you've heard so far.

COL. LIAM COLLINS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yeah, I mean, and as Representative Meek said, right, the call to leave Afghanistan was correct. But the manner in which Biden decided to do it was clearly flawed. And as pointed out, right, he didn't follow the advice of his military professionals who recommended leaving 2,500 forces on the ground, right? We still have forces in Germany, in Korea. We have special operations training militaries around the world. So this request was not, you know, it was based on past precedents.

But if you examine the military's 20-year history in Afghanistan, it's professional military advice is extremely suspect. So it's understandable why Biden might be hesitant to follow that advice. And as I think it was, Meek's also pointed out, that really, they're focusing on the last six months as they should be. But really, what set the stage is a 20-year history for what happened during the exit. So you definitely have to do a broader look to understand the exit itself.

SANCHEZ: So Colonel, looking at, the broader picture here. It seems like at several levels there were issues. There were issues with the intelligence. There were issues with the decision making that that intelligence was based on. And then there were more sort of logistical or tactical issues with equipment that was left behind, confusion about who to get out of the country after the withdrawal. Where do you see the biggest issues when it comes to the overall picture of the withdrawal from Afghanistan?


COLLINS: I think the biggest picture really, like I said, was set way back in 2002, 2003, 2004, when the U.S. made a decision, right? We had political and military leaders that didn't understand the history, the polity, the culture, the social structure of Afghanistan. So creating a strong central government, having a large conventional presence in Afghanistan, leading operations for far too long, right? And then building a strong national army when you needed local security. That kind of set the stage for what you had. And then, yeah, once you get to it, yeah, clearly was not planned and executed properly. But I think you've got to look at the underlying conditions that kind of set that stage. KEILAR: Yeah. And it was interesting to hear Milley talking about that. He was looking back when to winter of 2001. He said that if that had been the time when Bin Laden had really been zeroed in on, he thought that that was something that would have obviously changed the trajectory of the war. But when you are looking at the hand that Biden was dealt, and to be clear, during the Obama administration, you know he wasn't a fan of Obama's surge in Afghanistan, but he- this was what he was dealt, right?

And that's what a president has to deal with, which is he was going to bring the troops out of Afghanistan. And he was tasked, his administration was tasked with figuring out how to do it. When you look at what happened there in August of 2021, you know, as you pinpoint how this could have gone more smoothly. It seems here as they're talking to the military, they're really zeroing in on the State Department for culpability. What do you think about what you're hearing there?

COLLINS: Yeah, I mean, without a doubt. I mean, that's what you're going to get if you if you have the State Department in here, they're probably going to point the finger as somebody said, the Defense Department. But, you know, so, you know, the finger pointing, you can go back and forth all day. But clearly, there was not a good plan, whether that was the military's fault or State Department's fault. It's clear that there wasn't a good a good plan for this scenario, or the or the call was made at much too late of a date.

And so those obviously led to the conditions, right, as they said, right, having too small of a presence in country that, you know, had to then come into security airfield and conduct that noncombatant evacuation operation. And anytime you got to conduct, you know, usually it's under duress, right? Usually, those don't happen in advance, and things go badly, and it went very badly. But, again, you know, to keep in mind why some people might not have been able to forecast it or understand it, despite the intelligence.

The Taliban is not a sophisticated, sophisticated foe, right? This government just collapsed in the face of a foe that's not a sophisticated or, you know, they could have clearly defeated the Taliban, if they had any will to fight whatsoever. And so, you know, I think we have to look to Ukraine, and that's a nation that's fighting what many have ranked as the second most powerful nation in the world, and fighting toe-to-toe with them because they have the will. But we had partners there that had absolutely no will and no stake in their own governance. So it's tough to be successful in those circumstances.

SANCHEZ: Colonel, in the context of what happened at Abbey Gate, I think Chairman Mike McCaul was making the point that there's an intelligence from a sniper that was on the ground there who alleges that he had the suicide bomber that killed more than a dozen US service members and others in his sights, and that his calls, his request to engage with that person were ignored. McCaul was calling for documents to be released to Congress to further that investigation. I'm not necessarily asking about the details of that specific report, but I'm curious from your perspective what accountability looks like for that incident in which some 13 US service members were killed.

COLLINS: Yeah, and that, without a doubt, I mean, as Milley said, right, those should be released to Congress, right? I mean, they have a role, you know, obviously in the military and their actions, and they shouldn't have that information withheld from them. At the same time, I wasn't there at the time. I don't understand, you know, understand what the rules of engagement that they had there. But if a sniper is in a position and he's doing his job, he should never or she should never have to ask higher headquarters to engage a target. They should be able to go out there, right, and be able to make that decision at that time. Because if they do have to recall a request, that's what's going to happen, right? They're never going to get the word back down quick enough to engage the target.


So that's not surprising that if they had to make that request, that the suicide bomber is able to get off the charge.

KEILAR: Colonel, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate your expertise, and thank you so much for your service.

COLLINS: Thank you.

KEILAR: All right, we're going to go back to the hearing. I think Congressman Jason Crow was just asking questions and is continuing to do so, obviously served in Afghanistan himself as an Army Ranger. Let's listen.


GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: Staying, keeping 2,500 beyond. We thought it needed to be coupled with an aggressive negotiation program with the Taliban, one that perhaps had a few more sticks and not all carrots. So I think you needed to change your approach to negotiation if you decided to stay. We'll never know. You'll never know. I think I agree with General Milley. It's very possible that we could have been fighting the Taliban, but that's just a counterfactual. that we won't know the answer to. REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Okay, thank you. On the issue of a NEO, I actually was one of those voices that joined you and called for an earlier NEO, and it was something that I thought would have been better and could have led to a smoother evacuation, but not a perfectly clean one. Because NEOs are hard. And one thing I want to talk about is this issue of who we evacuate, right? You talked about getting accounts on U.S. citizens, but the simple fact of the matter is the United States nowhere, wherever, requires its citizens to register with the State Department. So in no instance do we ever fully know what Americans are on the ground in any situation. Is that correct?

MCKENZIE: I think that's 100% correct, and you'll see it playing out today in Haiti. You saw it in the Sudan. You saw it in Ukraine. You saw it in many other places. Very, very difficult. It's a voluntary thing. People are encouraged to register with the embassy, but I don't know of any compulsory requirement to do that.

CROW: And also, when we evacuate American citizens, in Afghanistan, many of those were, in fact, dual citizens. Is that accurate, General McKenzie?

MCKENZIE: That's correct, yes.

CROW: And many of those folks actually had non-American citizen family members. Is that right?

MCKENZIE: That is correct.

CROW: So many of them, not until the last moment, wanted to evacuate until they knew that there was a crisis because they didn't want to leave their family. Is that accurate?

MCKENZIE: I think you are absolutely correct.

CROW: So even if we had started in NEO earlier, that doesn't mean at the end of the day there wouldn't have been a crisis as the Afghan government and security forces collapsed because people finally realized they needed to get out. That probably wouldn't have changed even if we had started the NEO earlier.

MCKENZIE: Hard to know, but that's certainly a possibility.

CROW: The last piece is the part of the story that is not yet written and that is our partners, our friends, our Afghan allies who are still there. We have an obligation to get them out. There's a bill called the Afghan Allies Protection Act, a bipartisan bill. I want to thank Mr. Baird over here, who's a co-sponsor of that. And I want to encourage all my colleagues who are here who are not yet co-sponsors of that bill to sign on, because we can still do right and save lives by passing this bill and providing a pathway for our friends to get out. With that, I yield back.

UNKNOWN: Yields. Chair recognizes Mr. Perry from Pennsylvania.


KEILAR: All right. We are watching the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this hearing about supposed to be about accountability for this U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan from almost three years ago now. But we have some breaking news we want to interrupt with.

SANCHEZ: The Supreme Court moments ago ruling that Texas can begin enforcing SB4. This is that controversial immigration law that was passed by Governor Greg Abbott that allows local law enforcement to arrest people that they suspect of being undocumented. This is a very contentious law, in part because the issue of immigration for years, typically with precedent from the Supreme Court, has been handled by the federal government. Here, the state of Texas is effectively taking immigration law into its own hands. We're going to get more details on this ruling by the Supreme Court and get you updated with the latest as soon as we come back on CNN News Central. Stay with us.



KEILAR: We're returning now to our breaking news. The Supreme Court allowing Texas to begin enforcing its controversial immigration law.

SANCHEZ: We're joined now by Joan Biskupic. Joan, what do you make of this decision? Just yesterday it was put on hold indefinitely. Now they're letting Texas move forward with enforcement of this law.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yeah, Boris, when they put it on hold indefinitely last night, they were only doing it because they weren't ready to issue this order. It wasn't anything final. They just essentially bought themselves a few more hours of time. This is very, very big. It's saying that this law that allows Texas to arrest and detain people who cross the border and are suspected of entering the country illegally, for Texas to use its own law enforcement powers against them. That really flies in the face of decades and decades of federal immigration law. And the Biden administration had challenged this Texas law. It's commonly known as SB4. It was signed by Governor Abbott back in December, really taking a hard law enforcement effort against people crossing the border. The administration had said, you can't do this.


Federal immigration is our concern. And the merits of this dispute are playing out in lower courts. But the question was, should this law be allowed to take effect? A lower district court judge had said, no, put the --law on hold while the legal proceedings play out. But today, the Supreme Court ensured that that law can go forward. Now, just so you know, only three justices dissented here, and they were the liberal justices, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown-Jackson, and Elena Kagan. And I'll just read briefly from their dissent, because the majority itself did not explain itself.

It just, you know had an order that said that Texas can enforce this. Two justices on the right did concur in that. And I'll get to that in a second. But I just wanted to explain what the dissenters wrote. They said, today, the court invites further chaos and crisis in immigration enforcement. Texas passed a law that directly regulates the entry and removal of non-citizens and explicitly instructs its state courts to disregard ongoing federal immigration proceedings. That law upends federal-state balance of power that has existed for over a century.

That's what Justices Sotomayor and Jackson wrote. And then Justice Kagan wrote separately, the subject of immigration generally and the entry and removal of non-citizens particularly are matters long thought the special province of the federal government. And that's kind of the crux of the argument, even though this is playing out in such human terms at the border. You know, this was kind of a very legal separation from the federal government, from the state's issue that came up to the court.

And the justices, the majority at least, felt that this is something that right now, Texas has the upper hand. Now, I will caution that this victory on the part of Texas, and it's a really significant victory today when you consider all that's happening at the border, it's significant. But it might not be, you know, long-lived only because this is going to go through arguments on the merits. The only other thing I want to make mention just because I want to give the majority it's due.

The justices and you need at least five votes so it could have been it could have been a five - four decision more likely it's probably six - three, but we don't know because they didn't sign their order but it needed at least five votes to at least allow the Texas law to take effect.

Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion to the majority decision basically just saying that they didn't feel that it was right to interfere what the lower appellate court the Fifth Circuit had said at this point about and allowed the law to take effect. The Fifth Circuit will be hearing the merits of this very large dispute on April 3rd. Boris. Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes so they'll hear it next month and in the interim Texas is allowed to proceed with the this law that the governor Abbott signed into law in December. What do you think this means though Joan. I mean are you reading more into this than just okay you can proceed Texas as you want to until it's decided. Are you reading a lot into that rather than them sort of staying this law.

BISKUPIC: You know you know even though they the concurring justices who were with the majority, just two of them, justices Sotomayor and Kavanaugh said you know we're not deciding the merits here but it's certainly Brianna gives Texas gives Texas the upper hand here. And remember they are allowed to do something that it's state has never done before. You know arrest and detain people on their own state powers who they think are here illegally, as I said normally something of the federal government so you know in the very end you know months from now, many months from now, this law could be struck down as unconstitutional as the Biden administration argues. But right now it's allowed to be enforced with such great consequences there at the border.

SANCHEZ: A significant ruling that will have immediate impacts on the situation at the southern border.

BISKUPIC: That's right

SANCHEZ: Joan Biskupic, please stand by. We want to bring in former ICE acting director under President Obama, John Sandwig. John, thank you so much for being with us. Right off the bat, your reaction to this decision by the Supreme Court to allow SB4 to be enforced.

JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ICE ACTING DIRECTOR UNDER OBAMA: Yeah, Boris, actually, I'm quite stunned by this. This, you know, flies in the face of longstanding precedent when other states have tried to enact their own border enforcement schemes. The court has shot that down, obviously, most notably Arizona. But look, I think the dissenting justices got this one right. This is going to sow a lot of chaos at the border, frankly, at a time where we don't need chaos. How Texas is going to implement this is going to be challenging at best.