Defense Chiefs’ Testimony Contradicts President Biden’s Claim That No Military Advisors Warned Against Afghanistan Withdrawal
How do you feel about the Taliban’s takeover following the Afghanistan withdrawal?
What’s the story?
- A trio of top military leaders testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The trio of panelists included Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the civilian leader of the military; General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and General Frank McKenzie, the commanding officer of Central Command which was in charge of operations in Afghanistan.
- One of the main issues defense officials were pressed on was a claim made by President Joe Biden in an August 19th interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous in which the president denied that military advisors recommended to him that the U.S. keep troops in Afghanistan:
Stephanopoulos: So no one told -- your military did not tell you, “No, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that”?
Biden: No. No one said that to me that I can recall.
- McKenzie testified that he recommended to both the Biden and Trump administrations that the U.S. keep several thousand troops in Afghanistan because he viewed those force levels as being enough to preserve the “strategic stalemate” with the Afghan government and security forces intact but the Taliban contesting them for territory. He explained:
“I recommended we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 we maintain 4,500 at that time. Those are my personal views. 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 government.”
- Milley added that as the pull-out was being considered, “My assessment remained consistent throughout that we should keep a steady state of 2,500.”
- McKenzie said that he is certain Biden was informed about the recommendations: “I was present at the time the discussion occurred and I’m confident the president heard all the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully.”
- Austin confirmed that Biden was informed about the recommendations of McKenzie, Milley, and other defense officials to keep troops in Afghanistan, saying that “input was received by the president.”
- Milley said that once the Afghan government was toppled by the Taliban remaining in Afghanistan past August 31st following the government’s collapse was feasible but would’ve “required an additional commitment of significant amounts of forces” with potentially 15,000 to 25,000 troops to retake Bagram Air Base and clear the 6,000 Taliban militants from Kabul. Remaining in Afghanistan past August 31st there would’ve been greater risk for American citizens in the country and casualties among U.S. military personnel.
- Austin testified that President Joe Biden’s decision to move the Afghanistan withdrawal date from May 1st to September 11th “was not a military recommendation.” Biden later moved up the withdrawal deadline from the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to August 31st.
- The troika of defense officials will be back on Capitol Hill Wednesday for more testimony about Afghanistan before the House Armed Services Committee.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: McKenzie: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton via Flickr / Creative Commons | Milley: DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando via Flickr / Creative Commons | Austin-Biden: DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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