Any notion that President Biden and his military advisers were in accord on the withdrawal plan in Afghanistan was dispelled Tuesday by testimony by top military leaders before Congress.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command and who was in charge of the Aug. 31 withdrawal, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contradicted Biden’s statement that he wasn’t told to leave a small military presence in Afghanistan.
During an interview in August, when asked by ABC News if he had been told to leave a few troops in Afghanistan, Biden said, “No. No one said that to me that I can recall.”
Are we in the midst of another he say, they say? Is the president’s memory faulty on this point or are the generals attempting to save face and place the blame on Biden?
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, may not be the best arbiter to answer the differences here, but she certainly dismissed any indication that the president was trying to mislead the public.
“The president made clear that the advice was split,” she said. “If there’s conflicting advice given, by necessity some people’s advice will not be taken.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin defended the chaotic atmosphere surrounding the withdrawal, which was mainly a deadly fiasco when the Afghan government forces failed to hold up their end of the bargain.
“Let’s be clear, those first two days were difficult,” Austin explained at the hearing. “We all watched with alarm the images of Afghans rushing the runway and our aircraft,” he said about the evacuations that began at Kabul’s airport in mid-August.
All told, both the U.S. and the Afghan forces were taken by surprise when the Taliban seized control of the government and intercepted any possibility of a peaceful transition.
Austin also took time to elaborate on the withdrawal, which he said “…Was the largest airlift conducted in U.S. history and it was executed in 17 days. Was it perfect? Of course not…We moved so many people so quickly out of Kabul that we ran into capacity and screening problems at intermediate staging bases outside Afghanistan.”
More than 140,000 Americans and Afghan citizens were evacuated, though the Republicans are doing their best to place the blame for the death of 13 military personnel on Biden.