WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate hearing Thursday on the nomination of the official to be the Pentagon’s top policy adviser was dominated by Republicans expressing their frustrations with the Biden administration’s foreign policies, from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to Ukraine funding and climate change.
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Derek Chollet, who has been serving as the counselor for the State Department, about mistakes the administration made in leaving Afghanistan and whether enough is being done to control the U.S.-Mexico border.
Chollet has been nominated to be the next undersecretary of defense for policy. He served previously in the Pentagon as assistant secretary for international security from 2012 to 2015.
Chollet urged continued support for Ukraine, said it is crucial for the United States to learn from the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal, and agreed that America needs to have a safe and secure border, which is why active-duty troops have been sent to bolster the Department of Homeland Security.
Committee members, including the chairman, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., quizzed Chollet on the possibility of cuts in U.S. aid to Ukraine as it battles Russian forces, and about about delays in getting weapons to the war.
Chollet said that if he is confirmed, he “will move heaven and earth to get the Ukrainians what they need when they need it.” But he added that, as the U.S. sends security aid to Kyiv, “we need to think about what they can operate, what they can maintain, what would be most effective in the fight. We need Ukraine to win.”
He was questioned by several senators about the August 2021 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, where pandemonium broke out at the Kabul airport as thousands tried to get on the final flights out and a suicide bombing took the lives of 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. servicemen and women.
“Has anybody been held accountable for the disastrous withdrawal that took place, considering the American lives that were lost and how many Americans we left behind?” asked Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.
Chollet said the U.S. worked to pull out all Americans who wanted to leave and ultimately evacuated 120,000. He said that even though the U.S. does not have an embassy in Afghanistan now or any military presence, there is an ongoing intensive effort to also get out those who served alongside American troops.
“There are so many lessons that we have to learn as a country by the 20-year engagement we had in Afghanistan,” he said,
Chollet told the committee that one of the first things he would do if confirmed would be to evaluate how the U.S. is working with allies and partners to ensure the U.S. can deal with the growing challenges from China, Russia and North Korea.
He was also pressed on Pentagon priorities.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Congress received the Navy’s climate action plan early on in the administration, but only recently got its shipbuilding plan. Which, he asked, is more important?
Chollet said warfighting and having a capable Navy is “absolutely critical” but climate change is also a vital issue.
Pentagon leaders as well as the services have developed plans to assess how the changing climate has an impact on bases, including many that are on the coasts, as well as how it affects the availability of food and other social needs because shortages can fuel security challenges in other nations, particularly those that are poorer.
Sullivan said warfighting is most important and should be Chollet’s answer.
“The biggest concern that so many of us have is the civilians at the Pentagon are shoving down a system of values that don’t relate to warfighting, don’t relate to lethality,” the senator said.