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White House says Biden advisers were split on Afghanistan recommendations
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday defended President Biden's previous comments about recommendations he received from military advisers on the Afghanistan drawdown, saying Biden received a range of opinions before deciding in April to withdraw all U.S. troops from the nation.
Psaki stressed that Biden told ABC News last month that his advisers were "split" on whether to leave troops in Afghanistan.
"I think that's a pretty key part of that phrasing there," Psaki said.
"There was a range of viewpoints, as was evidenced by their testimony today, that were presented to the president, that were presented to his national security team, as would be expected, as he asked for," Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
"It was also clear, and clear to him, that that would not be a longstanding recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation, an increase in troop numbers," she continued. "It would also mean war with the Taliban and it would also mean the potential loss of casualties. The president was just not willing to make that decision. He didn't think it was in the interest of the American people or the interest of our troops."
Republicans have accused Biden of lying to the public during the August interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos when the president denied reports that top generals recommended he leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
"No one said that to me that I can recall," Biden told Stephanopoulos, after saying his advisers were "split."
During a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that they recommended leaving 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
As she faced questions about their testimony Tuesday afternoon, Psaki declined to offer specific details when asked which of Biden's advisers recommended he withdraw all U.S. troops. She emphasized repeatedly that the U.S. would have had to ramp up its military presence in Afghanistan if it remained engaged in the 20-year war, and that 2,500 troops wouldn't have been a long-term solution.
"We're talking about the initial phase, post-May 1. We're not talking about long-term recommendations. There was no one who said, 'Five years from now, we could have 2,500 troops and that would be sustainable,'" Psaki said.
She also noted that, regardless of the recommendations, it was ultimately Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.