Two lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee debated whether the nation’s top generals actually contradicted President Joe Biden’s statement that no one recommended keeping some troops in Afghanistan.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “We’re supposed to believe that either the president was either not informed by you of these very important factors, or he forgot it. Either one is alarming.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the committee chairman, interjected to suggest that Johnson had mischaracterized what Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopolous when he was asked if military advisers recommended keeping 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
He went on to read the transcript of the exchange between Stephanopolous and Biden.
“‘No, they didn’t. It was split.’ That’s what the president said. He didn’t say, ‘No, nobody advised me.’ It was split,” Smith said.
Johnson interrupted, encouraging the chairman to continue reading the transcript.
Smith proceeded to note that Stephanopolous asked the president, “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 last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that’?”
“‘No. No one said that to me that I can recall.’ No one said it’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that. We can continue to do that. Those are the words on the transcript that were just submitted. I’ll leave it to other people to interpret that. But those are the actual words,” Smith added.
The Louisiana Congressman re-read the transcript, but Smith accused him of reading “quickly through the ‘it’s been a stable situation’ part.”
“But that’s kind of the important part,” he added.
Johnson quipped, “I think the American people use common sense, and it’s alarming whatever it is.”
Watch the exchange below:
Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) calls out Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) for mischaracterizing Biden's comments to George Stephanopoulos pic.twitter.com/IL7nmLeNf0
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 29, 2021
During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, who was the overall commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said, “I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. And I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we maintain 4,500 at that time. Those were my personal views.”
When asked if Biden heard the recommendation, McKenzie said, “I was present when that discussion occurred. And I’m confident that the president heard all the recommendations and listened to them very thoughtfully.”
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified that he recommended keeping between 2,500 and 3,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Additionally, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was asked if their recommendations were received by the president. He responded, “Their input was received by the president and considered by the president, for sure.”
However, Psaki said in a tweet that their comments were not a contradiction, “As [Biden] told ABC, ending the war in Afghanistan was in our national interest. He said advice was split, but consensus of top military advisors was 2500 troops staying meant escalation due to deal by the previous admin.”
“[Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin], the Chairman, and GEN McKenzie all reiterated,” she added.
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