Biden denies military commanders recommended he leave troops in Afghanistan
President Biden denied that his top military commanders recommended he leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan amid peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban instead of withdrawing all troops by this fall.
“No they didn’t. It was split. That wasn’t true,” Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos when asked about the recommendation, which was reported by The Wall Street Journal and other outlets in April.
When pressed, Biden was adamant that military leaders did not argue against his plan to withdraw all troops by Sept. 11.
“No,” Biden told Stephanopoulos in the interview, portions of which aired early Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “No one said that to me that I can recall.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in April that Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan went against recommendations from top military commanders — specifically Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East; Gen. Austin Miller, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan; and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
The military commanders reportedly wanted the continued troop presence to maintain stability in the country as officials worked to support peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban. According to the Journal, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shared the concerns of the military commanders about withdrawing all troops. The U.S. had 2,500 troops in Afghanistan when Biden took office in January.
Biden, who has long advocated for reducing America’s military footprint in Afghanistan, ultimately decided to withdraw all troops. The deadline for the full withdrawal was moved up last month to Aug. 31.
The swift drawdown has been followed by chaos in Afghanistan. The Taliban overran the country and took Kabul on Sunday, a quicker timeline than officials say they anticipated. The Biden administration is under tremendous pressure to quickly evacuate Americans and at-risk Afghans who are currently stranded in the country.
Biden has insisted that he would have been forced to ramp up American troop presence in Afghanistan if he had decided to remain in the country after former President Trump, before he left office, made a deal with the Taliban to withdraw forces by May 1 of this year.
“I have one of two choices,” Biden told Stephanopoulos in the interview, which was taped on Wednesday. “Do I say we’re staying, and do you think we would not have to put a hell of a lot more troops in? We had tens of thousands of troops there before.”
Biden also insisted he would have found a way to withdraw American forces and end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan even if Trump had not made the deal to leave when he was president.
“I would have figured out how to withdraw those troops, yes,” Biden said. “There is no good time to leave Afghanistan. Fifteen years ago it would have been a problem; 15 years from now. The basic choice is: Am I going to send your sons and your daughters to war in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan, in perpetuity?”