President Donald Trump ordered a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Somalia in the wake of his 2020 election loss, but senior officials never followed through on the plan, according to testimony released by the congressional January 6 committee on Thursday.
“The order was for an immediate withdrawal, and it would have been catastrophic,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., one of two Republican members of the special panel. “And yet President Trump signed the order.”
Witnesses who spoke to the committee about the surprise withdrawal plan included Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, former national security advisor to the vice president Keith Kellogg, and several other senior officials in the Trump administration.
Committee officials played video clips of their testimony during Thursday’s 10th hearing on the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. The event is expected to be the final public meeting of the panel.
Milley said he was shocked when he saw the withdrawal orders, signed by Trump on Veterans Day 2020, just four days after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
“It is odd. It is nonstandard,” Milley said in his recorded testimony. “It is potentially dangerous. I personally thought it was militarily not feasible nor wise.”
Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant general, said after seeing the order he told senior staff the idea was “a tremendous disservice to the nation” and implementing it would be “catastrophic.”
At the time, about 8,000 troops were still stationed in Afghanistan, helping train government security forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations. Fewer than 1,000 U.S. troops were in Somalia on similar missions.
Journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa referenced the surprise memo in their book “Peril” on the Trump presidency, released last month. They wrote that the idea did not go through any of the traditional chain of command protocols, and ultimately senior staff believed it did not have legal standing requiring them to follow through with the plan.
But members of the committee argued the move showed acknowledgement by Trump that he had lost the election.
“Knowing that he had lost and that he had only weeks left in office, President Trump rushed to complete his unfinished business,” Kinzinger said.
“These are the highly consequential actions of a president who knows his term will end shortly.”
Trump has maintained that the 2020 election was conducted improperly and that he actually won the popular vote. He and supporters have been unable to provide evidence for that claim, and the committee has offered testimony undermining both the accusations and Trump’s own belief in them.
They have, however, argued that Trump was to blame for the violence at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, when hundreds of his supporters overtook the halls of Congress in an attempt to stop certification of the 2020 election results.
The deaths of at least five people have been blamed on the violence and its aftermath, including a Trump supporter shot and killed by Capitol Police. Numerous law enforcement officials were injured as the crowd surged past them to try and reach lawmakers.
More than 850 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the Capitol attack, according to the Associated Press.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.