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Fact-check: Military testimony on Afghanistan appears to contradict Biden’s previous statements about troop levels
In an interview in mid-August, Biden has repeatedly contested that military advisers told him he should keep troops in Afghanistan past the withdrawal deadline.

When asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulous if “the best military advisers have warned against pulling out within this timeframe,” Biden replied, “No, they haven’t.”

To clarify, Stephanopoulous asked, “So nobody said it – your military advisers didn’t tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2,500 soldiers. The situation has been stable for several years. We can do it. Can we go on doing this? ”To which Biden replied,“ No one told me that that I remember. ”

Although senior military officials “made a unanimous recommendation” on August 25 to end the military mission in Afghanistan and move to a diplomatic mission, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Chief U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie both told Congress during Tuesday’s testimony that they personally supported keeping troops small beyond the withdrawal deadline. They declined to share exactly what they told the sitting president, but shared their personal views on the situation.
“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,” McKenzie said. “I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. I also recommended earlier, in the fall of 2020, that we maintain 4,500 at that time. These are my personal opinions.”
Milley told lawmakers his assessment in fall 2020, which “remained consistent,” was that the United States should “maintain a steady state” of 2,500 troops.

Other senior administration officials have also pushed for a slower withdrawal, according to reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

In their new book, “Peril,” Woodward and Costa write that Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken changed his recommendation for the withdrawal of all US troops after a March meeting of NATO ministers. Around the same time, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin proposed a “controlled” multi-step withdrawal, the authors write.

That debate spread to Tuesday’s White House press briefing, where press secretary Jen Psaki said a “range of views” had been presented to Biden by his military advisers on how to proceed in Afghanistan, but ultimately it was up to the president to make strategic decisions. .

Psaki also pointed out that none of Biden’s advisers are recommending a long-term troop presence.

“I would note today in the testimony given by Secretary Austin, by General Milley, that it was clear,” Secretary Austin said specifically, “if you stay there at a position of strength of 2,500,” you would definitely be in conflict with the Taliban., and you will have to step up, ”Psaki said.

“It was also clear, and clear to him, that this would not be a long-standing recommendation, that it would take an escalation, an increase in the number of troops, it would also need, it would also mean a war with the Taliban and that would also mean the potential loss of casualties. The president just wasn’t prepared to make that decision. He didn’t think it was in our best interest, in the interest of the American people, or in the interest of our troops. ” , she continued.

“No one said that in five years we could have 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable,” Psaki said. “And I think it’s important that people know and understand.”