Generals Contradict Biden on Afghanistan Exit

They say they wanted to keep force of 2.5K in the country to prevent collapse
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2021 5:30 PM CDT
Generals Contradict Biden on Afghanistan Exit
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

In an ABC interview last month, President Biden defended the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan, denying that advisers had wanted him to keep 2,500 troops in the country. He was contradicted by top military officials during a heated six-hour Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, the Hill reports. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of Central Command, said they had agreed with an assessment that 2,500 troops would be needed to prevent the collapse of the Afghan government, though they declined to say what they had directly told Biden. More:

  • Warnings of collapse. McKenzie said he recommended keeping troops in the country under both the Biden and Trump administrations. "I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended early in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time, those were my personal views,” McKenzie said, per the AP. "I also had a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces and eventually the Afghan government.”

  • A "strategic failure." Milley, the country's top military officer, described the end of the 20-year war as "a logistical success but a strategic failure," the Guardian reports. With the Taliban now in power in Kabul, "it is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted," Milley said.
  • Staying past deadline would have been dangerous. Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told senators that staying past the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline would have endangered troops and other Americans. "On the 1st of September we were going to go back to war again with the Taliban," Milley said. "That would have resulted in significant casualties on the US side and would have put American citizens still on the ground there at significant risk." He said another attack like the one that killed 13 American troops and more than 160 Afghans would have been a "near certainty."

  • "Uncomfortable truths." Austin, a retired four-star general who served in Afghanistan, said the rapid collapse of the Afghan military surprised American commanders, the New York Times reports. He said the military needs to confront "uncomfortable truths" including the fact that they had failed to realize the "depth of corruption" in the Afghan military's senior ranks. "The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away—in many cases without firing a shot—took us all by surprise," he said. "It would be dishonest to claim otherwise."
  • The Biden interview. In the August interview, Biden told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he couldn't recall anybody telling him, "We should just keep 2,500 troops. It's been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that." Politico reports that Milley "declined to give a direct answer" during Tuesday's hearing when Republican Sen. Inhofe asked him if Biden's remark was a false statement. "I'm not going to characterize a statement of the president of the United States," Milley told the senator.
  • Psaki defends Biden remarks. White House press secretary Jen Psaki denied that Biden had misled the public about his conversations with military advisers, the Washington Post reports. She said he had told ABC that advisers were "split" on keeping troops in the country, which is "a pretty key part of that phrasing there." It was also clear to Biden "that that would not be a long-standing recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation and increase in troop numbers," Psaki said.
(Milley also defended calls he made to his Chinese counterparts in the final months of the Trump administration.)

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