Terrorist organizations would have about a two-year timeline to regeneration from the potential security void left after coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan, military leaders told lawmakers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing Thursday to review the administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request that the proposal “funds a troop presence and counterterrorism capabilities in the Middle East and South Asia and to meet the threats posed not only by Iran, but also by terrorist networks like ISIS and al-Qaeda and, in Africa, like those posed by Al-Shabaab.
“And it helps us maintain the integrated deterrent capability and global posture necessary to back up the hard work of our diplomats, our allies, and partners,” the general said.
Funding for personnel issues would also include the means to get “a better handle on the extent to which we experience extremist behavior,” he said, alluding to Pentagon initiatives begun at the beginning of the Biden administration.
“How would you rate the likelihood of international terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS regenerating inside of Afghanistan and presenting a threat to our homeland, our allies given what you see today?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked. “Is it small, medium, large? How would you assess it?”
“I would assess it as medium,” Austin replied. “I would also say, senator, that it would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley concurred, adding that “if certain other things happen, if there was a collapse of the government or dissolution of the Afghan security force, that risk would obviously increase.”
“But, right now, I’d say medium and in about two years or so,” Milley said.
Milley acknowledged “there is ongoing violence, as we know, and we are drawing down our force.”
“Now the question remains, what will happen in the future? Will that military disintegrate? Will the government collapse? Will the Taliban come in? If the answer to that worst case scenario is yes… what will happen to women and girls and not only that but many, many others and they are probably going to be at risk,” he said.
But “there are many other outcomes that are possible, and we’re going to work to try to have those outcomes achieved as opposed to the worst-case outcome.”
“This is not a done deal yet. It’s the president’s intent to keep an embassy open, to keep our security forces around the embassy and to continue to work with the Afghan government to continue to fund the Afghan security forces and to keep that situation from devolving into the worst-case, and that’s what we’re planning on and that’s what we’re working toward,” Milley continued. “There are not guarantees in any of this.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked about a recent Associated Press investigation that found at least 1,900 military weapons lost or stolen over the past decade, with some AK-74 recovered by police in Fresno, Calif., eight years after a trio of military policemen stole 27 guns from a supply warehouse at Fort Irwin.
“In 2018, a Government Accountability Office report found shortcomings in securing weapons,” Feinstein said. “So, I would just like to ask you to briefly outline what is being done today to see that there are no problems like this and that weapons are well-secured.”
Milley said the Defense Department takes “the security of weapons extraordinarily seriously” dealing with “around 3 million or so small arms.”
“We’re not talking big-ticket items in aircraft carriers and F-35s. I’m talking small arms, what you’re mentioning about, rifles, machine guns, pistols, rocket launchers, the things that were mentioned in these reports,” he said. “I’ve asked each of the service chiefs to go back and let’s get the numbers, let’s get the reports over to you to make sure that we can level-set as to what’s correct and incorrect. I saw the reports as well in the media. I was, frankly, shocked by the numbers that were in there.”
“The reports I have from the services, as of this morning, are significantly less numbers than are reported in the media. That’s not to say it’s zero, but it’s much less. So, I need to square the balance here. I owe you a firm answer.”
Milley said that a 10 percent inventory is conducted on each arms room every month “and they are required, by law, by policy, by regulation, to inventory and account for all of those weapons, anything lethal at all, to include explosives.”
“If anything becomes missing or unaccounted for in any manner, shape, or form, there’s a full-fledged investigation by CID, as well as unit chains of command, and if anyone is found negligent at all, they are relieved of their command or punished in some other way,” he added. “And, if there’s a criminal involved, for example, you mentioned Fort Irwin, there were people arrested, prosecuted, and then currently in jail as a result of some of those weapons that you’re talking about.”
“So, everything is rigorously investigated. There are weapons that we can’t account for, but I can assure you that we take it extraordinarily seriously and I owe you the exact numbers that we’re getting and I’ll get you those very, very quickly.”