Biden’s Afghanistan statement on troop numbers appear discounted by a military testimony. On Tuesday, during a Senate hearing on the hurried US withdrawal from Afghanistan, top generals did seem to contradict previous statements by President Joe Biden on the administration’s plan to withdraw troops.
Biden repeatedly denied in a mid-August interview that military advisers persuaded him to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal timeline.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos questioned Biden if “top military advisers cautioned against withdrawing on this timeframe,” Biden stated, “No, they did not.”
To contextualize, Stephanopoulos said, “As a result, no one told you — your military advisers did not advise you, ‘No, we should retain 2,500 troops.’ For several years, the situation has been stable. That is conceivable. We can continue in this fashion,” Biden responded, “No one has ever said it to me that I am aware of.”
Top military officials’ “unanimous recommendation” raises eyebrows in light of the previous Biden’s Afghanistan statement.
At Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (C), Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (L), and Commander of US Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie (R) appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Although top military leaders “unanimously recommended” on August 25 that the military mission in Afghanistan be terminated, a diplomatic mission takes over, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and US Central Command chief Gen.
Frank McKenzie and John Bolton testified before Congress on Tuesday that they supported staying a small number of troops beyond the withdrawal timeline. They declined to divulge the specifics of what they told the sitting President, but they did provide their perspectives on the subject.
“I can not share my recommendation to the President; however, I will express my candid opinion with you. And it was my forthright opinion and perspective that impacted my recommendation, “McKenzie explained. “I advocated for the retention of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Besides that, I advocated previously that we keep 4,500 at that time, in the fall of 2020. That is my personal opinion.”
Milley reminded legislators that his assessment of the US “maintaining a stable state” of 2,500 troops in fall 2020 “remained unchanged.”
According to journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, other top administration officials also lobbied for a more gradual withdrawal.
In their new book, “Peril,” Woodward and Costa write that Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, rescinded his recommendation to withdraw all US troops during a March meeting of NATO ministers. Likewise, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested a phased withdrawal, the authors wrote.
The White House “clears the air” on Biden’s Afghanistan statement.
This controversy spilled over into Tuesday’s White House press briefing, during which press secretary Jen Psaki stated that Biden had been presented with a “range of viewpoints” on how to press ahead in Afghanistan by his military advisers, but that it was inevitably up to the President to make strategic decisions.
Further, Psaki stated that none of Biden’s advisers advocated for long-term troop deployment.
“I would note that in today’s testimony by Secretary Austin and General Milley, they made it quite clear, Secretary Austin expressly stated, that if you stay there with a force posture of 2,500, you will almost definitely be fighting the Taliban and will need to reinforce,” Psaki said.
“It was likewise clear, and evident to him, that it would not be a long-standing recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation, a boost in force levels, that there would also need to be a conflict with the Taliban, and that there would likely be losses. The President just was reluctant to make that decision. He did not believe it was in our, the American people’s, or our troops’ best interests “, she stated.
“There was no one who stated five years from now we could sustain 2,500 troops,” Psaki remarked. “And I believe that is critical for people to understand.”