White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to directly answer when asked by a reporter Thursday if President Biden was being “honest” earlier this year when he said in an interview that none of his advisers recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
“General [Austin] Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that was exactly what he recommended,” a reporter said to Psaki. “Was the president’s answer in that interview an honest answer?”
“First of all, I’m not going to get into details on private advice the president gets from his national security team or military advisers,” Psaki responded. “What is clear is that the president asked for – welcomed – candid and non-sugar-coated advice on Afghanistan and what we should do given what we walked into.”
Psaki then shifted the blame to former President Donald Trump and his previously negotiated withdrawal target date of May 1.
“A deal struck with the Taliban with a May 1 deadline including the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters where we would need to get our U.S. forces out, otherwise we would face conflict. That’s what he was facing,” she said.
Psaki then reiterated that she won’t “get into detail” on who gave what advice and through which forum.
The reporter pressed Psaki again on reports that Gen. Scott Miller, who commanded U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan until July, told Congress that he was opposed to Biden’s plan of total withdrawal.
“He was provided a range of advice,” Psaki said. “I’m not going to get into more details than that. But what is important to note at this point is it’s crystal clear that 2,500 troops would not have been sustainable on the ground. It would have been either increase troops on the ground or withdraw troops on the ground and the president has been clear many times he was not going to send thousands and thousands more troops to fight a war the Afghans didn’t want to fight.”
In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos earlier this year, Biden denied that military officials warned against his withdrawal deadline and wanted to keep 2,500 troops in the region.
“But your top military advisors warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops,” Stephanopoulos said to the president.
“No, they didn’t,” Biden said. “It was split. Tha– that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true.”
Stephanopoulos pressed him again, “They didn’t tell you that they wanted troops to stay?”
“No. Not at — not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops,” Biden responded. “They didn’t argue against that.”
Stephanopoulos asked a third time, “So no one told — your military advisors did not tell you, ‘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’?”
“No,” Biden insisted. “No one said that to me that I can recall.”