Shaheen Questions Secretary of Defense, Top Generals on Afghanistan Withdrawal & Urges Protections for Afghan Allies During Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing

September 28, 2021

 

**Shaheen has led Senate efforts in support of bolstering the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to protect Afghan allies**

 

 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and top military officials during a SASC hearing on the conclusion of U.S. military operations and future U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Shaheen asked the witnesses what precipitated the collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and government of Ashraf Ghani, as well as what the Pentagon’s next steps are to rebuild relations with European allies who partnered with the U.S. Shaheen also asked witnesses how to best ensure Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorism. In addition, Shaheen pressed Secretary Austin on the need to improve Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processing for applicants and their families, many of whom lack records of their service due to poor record keeping at the Department of Defense or because records were destroyed to avoid retribution from the Taliban.

Shaheen began her questioning by asking about the lessons learning in Afghanistan: “General Milley…You [previously] explicitly told the committee that in your professional opinion, you did not see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan. It appears we didn’t anticipate the rapid fall of Afghanistan and Kabul and the rise of the Taliban in the way we saw it play out on television. What did we miss?...How do we avoid that happening again?”

In response, General Milley said intelligence assessments completely missed the rapid 11-day collapse of the Afghan military and the government, which were predicted to occur in late fall or early winter. Among other factors, he pointed to a pullout of American advisors from Afghan units years earlier that prevented an accurate assessment of the Afghan military’s will and leadership to fight Taliban forces.

Shaheen then moved on to how to strengthen the SIV program moving forward: “…A historic problem that has gone [on for years] has been having the documents that show [our partners] actually served with our military, and DoD has been cited as the major problem in getting those documents. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen again in some future project where we need our partners on the ground to serve alongside our military members?...Is that something the Department is looking at and would you be willing to work with this Committee or others to see if we could set up a process that would insure those folks who worked with our men and women actually have the documentation they need to show that? I know one of the challenges are many of the records have been destroyed. I would hope there's some way we can insure those people are able to get the documentation they need to come to this country.”

Secretary Austin replied that he agreed the process is onerous and that it must be made easier for Afghan allies to demonstrate their service with U.S. forces. He highlighted DOD’s efforts to look for ways to streamline the SIV application process and committed to working with SASC and the Senator’s office on this effort.

Shaheen’s first round of questioning can be viewed here. Shaheen’s second round of questioning can be viewed here.

Senator Shaheen historically partnered with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on efforts to protect Afghans who’ve risked their lives to support U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad by strengthening the Afghan SIV program. She continues to lead bipartisan efforts in Congress to reauthorize additional Afghan SIVs. The President signed into law key provisions from the Afghan Allies Protection Act, a bill led by Shaheen and Senator Ernst, as part of spending legislation. Their legislation helps protect the Afghan civilians who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.