President Joe Biden told George Stephanopolous during an August interview that he was not advised by his military or defense advisors to keep US troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
"Your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline," Stephanopolous said. "They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops—"
"No, they didn't!" Biden interrupted. "It was split. That wasn't true. That wasn't true."
"They didn't tell you that they wanted troops to stay?" Stephanopolous asked.
"No, not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a time frame all troops. They didn't argue against that," Biden clarified.
"So no one told you, your military advisors did not tell you no, we should just keep 2,500 troops, it's been a stable situation for the past couple of years, we can do that, we can continue to do that."
"No," Biden said, "no one said that, that I can recall."
However, at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, General Mark Milley, who serves as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that this was precisely his recommendation to the president.
"I won't share my personal recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation," Milley said. "And I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan."
Right after this testimony, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a clarification about the seeming discrepancy. Psaki said that Biden said that his advisors were "split," and that this accounts for the difference in recollections of recommendations.
Psaki was asked about this at length during the daily White House press briefing, as well. A reporter asked about the seeming contradiction, "So did the President mislead the American public about the advice of his military advisors?"
"Well, let me give you a full a couple of specifics from the actual transcript because I know it's been shorthanded a bit, no malintent, but the question asked by George Stephanopoulos was, 'but your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline, they wanted you to keep about 2'500 troops.' President said, 'No, they didn't. It was split. That wasn't true. That wasn't true. It was split.' I think that's a pretty key part of that phrasing there," Psaki said. "Later on. He, George Stephanopoulos said, 'so no one told your military advisors did not tell you' quote, 'no, we should just keep 2,500 troops. It's been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that we can continue to do that.'"
Psaki quoted the President from the interview, saying "'No, no one said that to me that I can recall.'"
"I would note today in the testimony that was given by Secretary Austin, by General Milley," Psaki said, "they made clear, Secretary Austin specifically said, if you stay there at a post-force posture of 2,500, certainly you'd be in a fight with the Taliban. And you'd have to reinforce, so what should everybody take from that? 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.
"He asked for a clear, clear-eyed, didn't ask them not to sugarcoat it, what their recommendations were, it was also clear and clear to him, that would not be a long-standing recommendation, that there would need to be an escalation and increase in troop numbers. It also needs, 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 our the interest of the American people or the interests of our troops."
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