- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2021

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith on Wednesday defended President Biden’s decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan, telling the Pentagon’s top leadership the generals were “wrong” to push to keep U.S. troops in the country.

In a second day of Hill hearings on the chaotic end of the Afghan mission and the road ahead, the Washington state Democrat said the recommendations by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley and U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie provided to Mr. Biden before the withdrawal were misguided. 

On Tuesday, the generals had raised glaring concerns when they confirmed before the Senate Armed Services Committee that they privately advised the White House to keep at least 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and opposed a time-based withdrawal from the country. Their statements seemed to contradict President Biden’s claims in an August interview that Pentagon brass was on board with his Aug. 31 exit date.

The U.S.-backed Kabul government fell to the Taliban insurgency even before the Pentagon could complete its withdrawal, leading to a bloody and confused emergency evacuation mission last month.

“There are some, going back to the issue of whether or not we should have left Afghanistan, who imagined that there was sort of a middle option that we could have kept 2,500 troops there, and a relatively peaceful and stable environment,” Mr. Smith said in his opening statement Wednesday.

“I think the way that option has been presented by many of the critics has been fundamentally disingenuous. The option of keeping 2500 troops in Afghanistan in a peaceful and stable environment did not exist,” he said.

Senate Republicans seized on Tuesday’s revelation and slammed Mr. Biden for what they said were misleading statements to the public.

“Today’s hearing confirmed much of what I suspected: President Biden ignored the advice of his top military leaders, including his commanders on the ground – and then lied to the American people about it,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday.

But Mr. Smith tried to provide some cover for the president, disputing the Republicans’ read on the matter.

“This has been the subject of a huge misunderstanding in the last 24 hours and that, again, I find very, very disingenuous,” Mr. Smith said.

“What the president actually said was, there was no option on the table to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan in a stable environment,” he said. “That’s what he said, not that no one presented that option. That option didn’t exist in reality. … The president, in fact, made it clear earlier in that same interview, that yes, some of his military leaders had said that we should keep 2,500 troops there.”

The remarks align with the White House’s response to Tuesday’s testimony. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the Republican criticisms took Mr. Biden’s August remarks out of context and said “there was a wide range of viewpoints” offered by the president’s national security team.

SEE ALSO: House panel grills Pentagon brass a day after Afghanistan testimony contradicted Biden’s comments

Mr. Smith said that while he believed Mr. Biden would be proven right.

“I think they were wrong, and so did the President,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s not that they didn’t give the advice, it’s that they were wrong.”

“This committee has an enormous amount of respect for our military leadership, that does not mean that the military leadership is incapable of being wrong,” he said.

But Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, strongly challenged the chairman’s analysis of the debate.

“While I have great admiration for my friend, the chairman, I could not disagree more with his observations about Afghanistan and the president’s decision,” Mr. Rogers said in his opening remarks.

“The fact is, our coalition partners and our military leadership felt that we should have maintained our 2,500 troops there along with the roughly 7,500 to 8,000 coalition troops and the thousands of contractors that the Afghan army was dependent upon to fight successfully,” he said. “And I think they could have continued, as they have in past years, to fight valiantly had we given that support and the president had listened to his generals’ advice.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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