White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has got into testy exchanges with reporters over damaging revelations from US military leaders.
US military leaders have contradicted President Joe Biden’s claim that none of them advised him to keep a troop presence in Afghanistan, stating publicly for the first time that they felt it was a mistake to withdraw completely.
During an interview with ABC News on August 19, Mr. Biden insisted his military advisers had not argued against getting out of Afghanistan entirely.
“So no one told – your military advisers did not tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that, we can continue to do that?'” interviewer George Stephanopoulos asked him. “No. No one said that to me that I can recall,” Mr. Biden replied. Well. About that.
Three top US officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Congress today: Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, and the head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie.
Gen Milley and Gen McKenzie told the committee they believed the US should have kept 2500 troops in Afghanistan. “I won’t share my personal recommendation to the President, but I will give you my personal assessment,” said Gen Milley. “My assessment was we should keep a steady state of 2500 troops.”
“I do share that assessment,” said Gen McKenzie. “I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government.” Gen McKenzie said he’d also advised former President Donald Trump to keep troop levels at 4500 in the Autumn of 2020.
When Mr. Biden took office in January, he inherited a deal with the Taliban, which committed the US to leave Afghanistan by the beginning of May. Gen Milley and Gen McKenzie both criticized that agreement, saying it negatively affected the performance of the Afghan army.
The President ended up extending the deadline to the end of August. As the US and its allies withdrew, the Taliban swiftly conquered the country and took control of Kabul’s capital.
About 120,000 US citizens and Afghans eligible for visas were successfully evacuated amid the chaos that followed. Thousands more were left behind.
At today’s White House media briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki faced persistent questions from reporters who pushed her for the name of any military adviser who told Mr. Biden he should withdraw all troops.
In that ABC interview, one reporter brought up the President’s remarks, saying there appeared to be “a conflict” between his public statements and “what the generals were saying”.
Ms. Psaki referred to a further comment from the interview in which Mr. Biden said the advice to him had been “split”.
“The President made clear that the advice was split. He didn’t outline what every individual conveyed to him in personal advice,” she said.
“What the American people should know is, the President is always going to welcome a range of advice. He asked for candor. He asked for directness. And in any scenario, he’s not looking for a bunch of yes men and women.”
ABC News’ Terry Moran noted that Gen Milley, Gen McKenzie, and the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, had all advised Mr. Biden to maintain a presence of 2500 troops.