Two sources told Axios that Milley made the remark during a closed session briefing with senators on Tuesday, after Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about what could be taken away from the botched evacuation.
Milley, who serves as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, jumped in during Duckworth’s line of questioning to Austin, underscoring the potential discord between the nation’s top military advisors in the State Department and Department of Defense related to the evacuation operation in Kabul.
Another source told Axios that Milley “wasn’t blaming anybody per se, but was speaking from a purely military perspective. The quicker we moved out non-combatants, the safer they would be.”
Noncombatant evacuation operations are recommended by the State Department, while the Department of Defense is responsible for the coordination in executing the operation, according to the U.S. Marines’ website.
Top leaders from the National Security Council, State, DoD, CENTCOM, and the intelligence community met on August 6 to discuss contingency planning for a non-combatant evacuation operation, a senior administration official for the State Department told Insider.
“During that exercise, no DoD official, civilian or military, argued for triggering a NEO,” the official said. “If DoD had been pushing for an earlier NEO, we would have expected to have heard those calls during the discussion.”
The candid remark comes after Milley issued a more ambiguous statement in his public congressional testimony. With regards to whether evacuation operations should have started earlier, Milley said it was an “open question that needs further exploration.”
As of Monday, about 100 Americans are still trying to get out of Afghanistan after the capital of Kabul fell to Taliban forces last month. The war in Afghanistan effectively ended at the end of August after the last U.S. troops left on August 30, ending America’s 20-year presence in the country.
Representatives from Milley’s office did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
This article was written by Lauren Frias and originally published on the Insider.