President Joe Biden blamed “major military personnel” for the decision to withdraw from Bagram Air Force Base during the question-and-answer portion of his Thursday address.
The comments contradicted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who told reporters on Aug. 18 that military officials had to choose between securing Bagram and Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) due to lack of manpower.
“As for tactical questions of how to conduct an evacuation or war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan, the commanders, as well as at the Pentagon, and I ask for their best military judgment, what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission,” Biden said, in response to a question about who decided to turn over Bagram Air Force Base to the Afghan government.
“[The military] concluded that Bagram was not much value-added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so I followed that recommendation.”
The U.S. military withdrew from Bagram Air Force Base on July 2, with Afghan National Security and Defense Force (ANDSF) taking over. The ANDSF commander in charge of administering the base did not learn of the withdrawal until two hours after it happened.
The Taliban declared the withdrawal a “dignified tale of Jihad, extraordinary sacrifice, valor, epics, and remarkable resistance of our faithful people.” The group took charge of the airbase on Aug. 15, releasing 5,000 of its fighters who were held in the prison located on the grounds.
Republicans have criticized the decision to release control of Bagram.
“Just a few months ago, we shut down Bagram Air Force Base. Bagram was a secure military installation with a gigantic airfield,” Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger said on Aug. 17, two days after Kabul fell to the Taliban and U.S. Embassy officials were forced to retreat to HKIA. (RELATED: Congressmen Across The Board Demand Biden Respond To ‘Murderous’ Terrorist Attack, Keep Americans Safe)
“Can you imagine if we still had that?” he asked. “We vacated that in the middle of the night, we surprised the Afghans when they woke up and we were gone.”
Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley slammed the decision to hand over Bagram as a “surrender.”
“They have surrendered the American people and actually withdrew our troops before they withdrew the American people. And they have abandoned our Afghan allies to kept people like my husband safe while they were overseas deploying,” she said on Aug. 22.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse urged Biden to retake Bagram on Thursday in order to better “defend evacuation routes” in the wake of a terrorist attack outside HKIA that killed at least 12 American troops and numerous Afghan civilians.