(USA Features) President Joe Biden appeared to throw his top generals under the bus on Thursday following the deadly attacks on U.S. forces when he said that his decisions were based on the advice and counsel given him by the Pentagon.
During a press conference to discuss the carnage, Biden said that “major military personnel” advised him to withdraw all American forces from the country’s largest military base at Bagram, which was the nerve center for all U.S. and NATO operations during the 20-year conflict, though some analysts and lawmakers argued it was much better suited to accommodate mass evacuations.
The president’s remarks contradict those of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who told reporters Aug. 18 that the military had to choose between securing Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) at Kabul or the massive airbase at Bagram because of a lack of personnel.
Kabul was chosen instead.
“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 told reporters in response to a question about who made the decision to hand off Bagram Air Force Base to the Afghan government, which has since collapsed.
“[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,” Biden said.
The U.S. military withdrew from the base July 2 under cover of darkness. The commander of Aghan forces there did not know about the withdrawal until two hours later, according to reports.
The Taliban took over the base on Aug. 15, releasing thousands of prisoners who were being held at a prison facility there in the process.
“Securing Bagram is a significant level of military effort of forces, and it would also require external support from the Afghan Security Forces,” Milley told reporters earlier this month after being asked why U.S. forces withdrew.
“Our task given to us at that time, our task was protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consular service and all that. If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would have exceeded what we had or stayed the same or exceeded what we had,” Milley continued.
“So we had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made. The proposal was made from CENTCOM commander and the commander on the grounds, Scott Miller, to go ahead and collapse Bagram,” Milley said, adding the plan “was all briefed and approved,” suggesting that Biden signed off on it as commander-in-chief.
“That was all briefed and approved, and we estimated that the risk of going out of HKIA or the risk of going out of Bagram about the same, so going out of HKIA — was estimated to be the better tactical solution in accordance with the mission set we were given and in accordance with getting the troops down to about 600, 700 number,” he told reporters.