President Joe Biden repeatedly denied claims that military leaders warned him against withdrawing from Afghanistan in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Thursday.
The Biden administration has struggled to maintain consistent messaging regarding its ongoing withdrawal and evacuation efforts in Kabul. Biden himself denied to Stephanopoulos that any of his military leaders recommended keeping 2,500 in Afghanistan long term, despite White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledging that military leaders recommended that in April.
“Your top military advisers warned against withdrawing on this timeline. They wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops,” Stephanopoulos said.
“No, they didn’t. It was split. That–That wasn’t true. That wasn’t true,” Biden responded. (RELATED: 7 Killed In Kabul Airport As Chaos Ensues. Flights Suspended, Then Restarted)
“They didn’t tell you that they wanted troops to stay?” Stephanopoulos pressed.
“No. Not at — not in terms of whether we were going to get out in a timeframe all troops (sic). They didn’t argue against that,” Biden said.
“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’?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“No. No one said that to me that I can recall,” Biden said. “Look, George, the reason why it’s been stable for a year is because the last president said, ‘We’re leaving. And here’s the deal I wanna make with you, Taliban. We’re agreeing to leave if you agree not to attack us between now and the time we leave on May the 1st.'”
Biden’s interview with Stephanopoulos was his first press availability since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan began to unravel around Aug. 14-15. While he gave two speeches earlier in the week, he left each without taking questions from reporters.
Biden also vowed in the interview that U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until every U.S. citizen has been evacuated, a commitment Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan had shied away from. The original deadline for a full withdrawal is Aug. 31, but Biden confirmed troops could stay beyond that point.
“If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Biden said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to get all Americans out and all our allies out.”
The Biden administration estimates that there are 10,000-15,000 U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan. It is unclear how any citizens outside Kabul will make it to the airport, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the U.S. does not have the “capacity” to provide safe transit to the airport for Americans already in Kabul.