Source: Al Jazeera
Two top generals in the United States Army have said they advised President Joe Biden to keep a force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, ahead of the complete US withdrawal in August.
The testimony, which Gen Frank McKenzie and Gen Mark Milley gave to Congress, seemed to contradict President Biden, who said he did not remember getting such a recommendation. The Senate armed services committee questioned the two generals alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday.
In August, the Taliban took over the Afghan government and rapidly advanced through the country.
General Milley said that the speed with which the Afghan government collapsed surprised the United States. General McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, oversaw the withdrawal from Afghanistan and told the Republican senators questioning him that he recommended that the president keep a small force of 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
This is different from President Joe Biden’s assertion on August 19, where he told an ABC journalist that he did not recall getting such advice. General Milley mentioned that he agreed with the advice, but when Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan asked if the President gave a “false statement,” Gen Milley refused to give a direct answer.
Later, in a statement, Whitehouse spokeswoman Jen Psaki addressed the issue. “The president values the advice he receives from the military and joint chiefs, but he does not always agree with it,” she said. She also said that leaving troops in Afghanistan after the August deadline would have created a war between the US and the Taliban.
While it seemed like Mark Milley, Kenneth McKenzie, and Lloyd Austin were testifying before Congress; the biggest damage happened with Joe Biden’s own words on Tuesday.
Republicans have hit at the president for his statement, which contradicted the generals’ recent statements. In August, in an interview, Biden insisted that no generals were urging him to keep some US troops in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban takeover. Gen Milley and Gen McKenzie opined that the troops were necessary at one point, while General Milley said that he recommended this opinion to the president.
Republican senators asked why the president had promised to keep the military in Afghanistan until all citizens of the United States were evacuated, considering that there are Americans still in Afghanistan weeks after the final withdrawal.
The two generals finally stated that Afghanistan still had al-Qaeda’s presence, which directly contradicts Biden’s earlier statement that the terrorist organization no longer exists.
All that gave Republicans all they needed to accuse the president of lying to the American people.
In 2001, United States troops first arrived in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. By the time they were withdrawn, the United States had spent about $985 billion and deployed tens of thousands of troops, with the highest being 110,000 troops in 2011.
Between when Kabul fell and the withdrawal deadline of August 31, the United States evacuated its remaining 4,000 troops and took about 50,000 Afghan refugees who were airlifted out of Kabul.