White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that congressional testimony from President Biden‘s top military advisers does not contradict his claim that they didn’t urge him to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
In an August interview, Mr. Biden said it “wasn’t true” that his military advisers recommended a residual force of 2,500 troops. But Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that was exactly what they recommended.
The residual force would have challenged the offensive by the Taliban, who quickly swept through Afghan security forces and took control of the country as U.S. troops exited.
Ms. Psaki told reporters that Republican lawmakers who seized on the generals’ testimony took Mr. Biden‘s remarks from August out of context. She said Mr. Biden said the advisers were “split” on the issue.
“There was a range of viewpoints, as were evidenced by their testimony today, that was presented to the president, that were presented to his national security team, as would be expected,” she said at the daily White House press briefing.
She later said, “I think it’s important for the American people to know that these conversations don’t happen in black and white like you’re in the middle of a movie.”
Gen. McKenzie and Gen. Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they recommended to Mr. Biden that he leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. Both declined to detail exactly what they told the president.
Gen. McKenzie said he discussed with Mr. Biden a recommendation from Gen. Austin Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until July.
“I was present when that discussion occurred, and I am confident that the president heard all the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully,” McKenzie testified Tuesday.
In the August interview with ABC News, Mr. Biden denied that his top military commanders recommended leaving troops in Afghanistan.
When pressed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on whether his advisers wanted him to keep 2,500 troops in the beleaguered country, Mr. Biden responded, “No, they didn’t.”
“It was split,” Mr. Biden said. “That wasn’t true.”
Mr. Stephanopoulos pushed the president further about recommendations from his military advisers. “No. Not that I can recall,” Mr. Biden said of whether he was advised to leave troops in Afghanistan.
Ms. Psaki defended the chaotic troop pullout from Afghanistan, which has been criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. She said the range of opinions demonstrates that the president is not looking for “a bunch of yes men and women.”
“Ultimately, regardless of the advice, it’s his decision,” she said.