After the country’s top military advisers told a Senate panel that they had advised President Biden to maintain a level of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to confirm that he had received this recommendation, but decided to ignore it and opt out anyway.
This account, as well as those described by two high-level generals and Biden’s Secretary of Defense, flies in the face of what Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month, when he flatly denied that his military advisers advised him to keep a force of 2,500 in the war-torn country.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Frank McKenzie, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that they had advised the president to maintain the presence of small troops in Afghanistan.
In his defense of the president, Psaki tried to split hair – at one point above the word “split”.
“Let me give you a few details on the transcript itself, because I know it was a bit short,” she said.
“The question posed by George Stephanopoulos was: ‘Your military advisers warned against a withdrawal within this timeframe, they wanted you to keep around 2,500 soldiers. The president said, ‘No, they didn’t. It was divided. That it wasn’t true. That was not true. It was divided, ”Psaki said, rereading part of the interview transcript.
She said that was “a pretty key part of the wording”.
Later in the briefing, he was asked what the significance of Biden’s use of the word “split” was in this case.
“It might be helpful if you could just tell us, what do you mean by ‘separate’? Between what were they divided?
Psaki replied, “What’s confusing about this?”
“Well, it’s either one, they were advising 2,500 troops should stay on the ground, or two, somebody advising it to be zero,” the reporter said.
“I think it’s important for the American people to know that these conversations aren’t happening in black and white, or like you’re in the middle of a movie. These conversations are about a range of options, about what the risk assessments are for each decision, ”Psaki deflected.
“And of course there are people who come up with a series of recommendations on the right way forward. I’m not going to detail those here, private conversations and advice to the President of the United States, ultimately whatever advice. It’s his decision. He is the commander-in-chief, he is the president, he makes decisions about what is in the national interest and he thinks we should end the war, ”Psaki said.
Psaki then returned to the interview and Stephanopoulos’ question to Biden: “Your military advisers didn’t tell you, I quote, no, we should just keep 2,500 soldiers. It has been a stable situation for several years. We can do that. We can continue to do so.
She said Biden replied, “‘No, no one told me that I remember.'”
Psaki said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Milley and McKenzie “made it clear… if you stay there at a position of strength of 2,500, you will certainly fight with the Taliban and you will need to strengthen them.”
She said the military advisers presented Biden with a range of views “as you might expect as he asked for clear eyes, didn’t ask them not to water down, what their recommendations were.”
She also said it was “clear to him” that the recommendations would not last long and that it would be necessary to increase the number of troops, which could lead to fighting with the Taliban and an increase in the number. of victims.
“The president was just not prepared to make this decision. He didn’t think it was in the interest of the American people or in the interest of our troops, ”Psaki said.
Later, he was asked if the military advisers agreed to withdraw the troops.
“That’s not what I said. What I said was… and I think we shouldn’t denigrate this for anyone here, we’re talking about the initial phase after the 1st. May we are not talking about long term recommendations, ”she said.
“No one said, ‘In five years we could have 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable,’” she said.
Psaki said there were also risks associated with the increased troop presence.
“We now know that was absolutely the reality, given that it took 6,000 troops to just protect the airport – something we now know,” she said.
During the Senate hearing, Milley was reluctant to go into the details of his recommendations.
But he said: “I will not share my personal recommendation to the President, but I will give you my honest opinion and my honest opinion and perspective has shaped my recommendation. And I recommended that we keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, ”he said.
McKenzie also said he warned Biden of the consequences of reducing the number of troops below 2,500.
“I have consistently said that my position was that if you go below 2,500, you are going to see the collapse of the Afghan army. I hadn’t expected it would be days. I thought it would take months, ”he told Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC).
Austin confirmed Biden received recommendations from his military advisers regarding troop levels
“Their contribution has been received by the president and considered by the president for sure,” he said. “Regarding what they specifically recommended, senator, as they just said, they are not going to provide what they recommended in confidence. “