WASHINGTON — Top military leaders told Senate lawmakers on Tuesday that they previously advised President Joe Biden to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan, contradicting statements Biden made last month during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News.
When asked by Stephanopoulos in August if any military advisers previously advised him to maintain a troop presence, Biden said he could not recall any such advice. But before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, publicly acknowledged that they recommended Biden keep at least 2,500 troops on the ground.
When asked about the contradiction, White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not say which military advisers suggested a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and attempted to clarify Biden’s perspective.
“These conversations are about a range of options, about what the risk assessments are about every decision. And of course, there are individuals who come forward with a range of recommendations on what the right path forward looks like,” Psaki said. “Ultimately, regardless of the advice, it’s his decision. He’s the Commander in Chief.”
Milley defended the president’s decision to go against military guidance, saying “decision-makers are not required in any manner or form to follow that advice.”
The Afghanistan testimony was the first of back-to-back hearings to be held in the Senate and House this week. During today’s session, lawmakers grilled top Pentagon officials on American citizens left behind in Afghanistan and the July closure of Bagram Air Base, the military’s main hub in Afghanistan.
While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the withdrawal as a logistical success and said that U.S. credibility abroad remained intact, senators pressed the three officials on the rapid pace of the collapse of the Afghan forces.
“We certainly did not plan against a collapse of the government in 11 days,” Austin said. “We failed to fully grasp that there was only so much for which — and for whom — many of the Afghan forces would fight.”
Milley added that whether the evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies should have been ordered sooner than August is an “open question that needs further exploration.”
Throughout the hearing, lawmakers also questioned Milley on his comments featured in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book “Peril.” Under questioning from Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Milley acknowledged that he had spoken to Woodward and other authors who have written books about the Trump administration.
Milley said that he has only read press surrounding the accounts but not the books themselves. However, he agreed to read them after Blackburn asked him to and “let us know if you are accurately presented and portrayed.”