US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley testifying before US congress members. (File photo)
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has confirmed that climate change poses a serious threat to the country, insisting that it has had a significant impact on American military operations.
"Climate change is going to impact natural resources, for example," he said during a hearing of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services as quoted Friday by Military.com news outlet. "Itís going to impact increased instability in various parts of the world. Itís going to impact migrations, and so on."
Milley further pointed to the destructive effect of hurricanes -- which scientists say have been worsened by warming oceans -- on military infrastructure in the US. Tyndall Air Force Base in southeastern state of Florida was devastated by a major hurricane in October 2018.
The remarks by the top general came a day after US President Joe Biden told American troops based in Britain that top military leaders had told him nearly 12 years ago that global warming was the greatest threat facing country due to its effects on population movements, increased scarcity of land capable of growing food and potential conflicts over land.
"When I was over in the Tank in the Pentagon, when I first was elected vice president with President Obama, the military sat us down to let us know what the greatest threats facing America were -- the greatest physical threats," Biden asserted at the England-based RAF Mildenhall US Air Force base. "And this is not a joke: You know what the Joint Chiefs told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming."
During the hearing on Thursday to discuss US Defense Departmentís proposed fiscal 2022 budget, Milley was asked about Bidenís remarks about global warming being Americaís greatest threat, to which he responded that climate change had significantly affected military operations and must be taken into account.
Insisting that there is no difference of opinion between himself and Biden when it comes to taking climate change as a serious threat, Milley then noted, "The president is looking at [potential threats] at a much broader angle than I am."
"Iím looking at it from a strictly military standpoint and, from a strictly military standpoint, Iím putting China and Russia up there. That is not, however, in conflict with the acknowledgment that climate change, or infrastructure, or education systems -- national security has a broad angle to it."
He also described China as the top military threat facing the United States during his testimony, further referring to Russia as a considerable "great power competitor."
Milley also warned US lawmakers of Chinaís expanding military capabilities, insisting on the need to adopt measures to ensure competitive advantage of American armed forces.
"We must ensure that we retain our competitive and technological edge," he said, claiming that the Chinese military has been building its capabilities at "a very serious and sustained rate."
The development came after Biden administrationís first proposed Pentagon budget, released late last month, pointed to climate change a "national security priority" and asked for $617 million in new infrastructure investments to help prepare for and respond to climate change.
During the Thursday hearing, Senators also asked US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the militaryís effort to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, which is now more than halfway completed.
US to only counter anti-homeland threats in Afghanistan
Austin revealed that American forces there are already carrying out some missions, such as combat missions or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) flights, from outside Afghanistan, adding that MQ-9 Reaper drones are some of the aircraft conducting ISR operations across Afghanistan while operating from elsewhere in the region.
He further acknowledged, however, that once all American forces -- except a handful of troops to guard the US Embassy in Kabul -- are gone, supporting Afghan security forces "will be very difficult to do."
Austin also emphasized the militaryís effort to station assets in countries neighboring Afghanistan to conduct so-called over the horizon counterterrorism missions is still a "work in progress," declining to state when that might be ready.
The US military chief further refused to respond to a New York Times report Pentagon officials are considering whether to conduct airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if there is a danger of the Taliban overrunning Kabul or other major cities.
"I wonít speculate about any potential outcomes or any potential future actions," Austin emphasized. "I will just say that the president has been clear that our mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished, and we are focused on retrograding our people and equipment out. And going forward, those [counterterrorism] efforts will be focused on those elements that can possibly conduct attacks against our homeland."
US military invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 under the pretext of the so-called "war on terror" and spent trillions of dollars waging war on the impoverished country that has left hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians dead, injured and displaced. However, the US-led forces have totally failed to root out terror anywhere across the nation and ended up signing a peace deal with Taliban insurgents, the very militants they vowed to terminate.