Selasa, 28 September 2021

‘That’s not what I said’: Jen Psaki fumes -

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has got into cranky exchanges with reporters over damaging revelations from US military leaders.

US military leaders have contradicted President Joe Biden’s claim that none of them advised him to keep a troop presence in Afghanistan, stating publicly for the first time that they felt it was a mistake to withdraw completely.

During an interview with ABC News on August 19, Mr Biden insisted his military advisers had not argued against getting out of Afghanistan entirely.

“So no one told – your military advisers did not tell you, ‘No, we should just keep 2500 troops. It’s been a stable situation for the last several years. We can do that, we can continue to do that?’” interviewer George Stephanopoulos asked him.

“No. No one said that to me that I can recall,” Mr Biden replied.

Well. About that.

Three top US officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Congress today: Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and the head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie.

Gen Milley and Gen McKenzie both told the committee they believed the US should have kept 2500 troops in Afghanistan.

“I won’t share my personal recommendation to the President, but I will give you my personal assessment,” said Gen Milley.

“My assessment was we should keep a steady state of 2500 troops.”

“I do share that assessment,” said Gen McKenzie.

“I also have a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government.”

Gen McKenzie said he’d also advised former president Donald Trump to keep troop levels at 4500 in the Autumn of 2020.

When Mr Biden took office in January, he inherited a deal with the Taliban which committed the US to leave Afghanistan by the beginning of May. Gen Milley and Gen McKenzie both criticised that agreement, saying it negatively affected the performance of the Afghan army.

The President ended up extending the deadline to the end of August. As the US and its allies withdrew, the Taliban swiftly conquered the country and took control of the capital, Kabul.

About 120,000 US citizens and Afghans eligible for visas were successfully evacuated amid the chaos that followed. Thousands more were left behind.

At today’s White House media briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki faced persistent questions from reporters who pushed her for the name of any military adviser who told Mr Biden he should withdraw all troops.

One reporter brought up the President’s remarks in that ABC interview, saying there appeared to be “a conflict” between his public statements and “what the generals were saying”.

Ms Psaki referred to a different comment from the interview in which Mr Biden said the advice to him had been “split”.

“The President made clear that the advice was split. He didn’t outline what every individual conveyed to him in private advices,” she said.

“What the American people should know is, the President is always going to welcome a range of advice. He asked for candour, he asked for directness. And in any scenario, he’s not looking for a bunch of yes men and women.”

ABC News’ Terry Moran noted that Gen Milley, Gen McKenzie and the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, had all advised Mr Biden to maintain a presence of 2500 troops.

“So who in his military advisers told him it would be fine to pull everybody out?” Moran asked Ms Psaki.

“I’m not going to get into specific details of who recommended what,” she replied.

“There were recommendations made by a range of his advisers.”

Ms Psaki went on to reiterate Mr Biden’s various justifications for leaving Afghanistan, including the risk that increased fighting with the Taliban would have forced him to escalate America’s troop presence.

“But you are saying here that military advisers to the President said it would be OK to pull all the troops out? That it would be fine?” Moran pressed.

“That’s not what I said,” Ms Psaki shot back.

“What I said was – I think we should not dumb this down for anybody here. We’re talking about the initial phase, post-May 1. We’re not talking about long-term recommendations.

“There was no one who said, five years from now we could have 2500 troops and that would be sustainable.”

Moran kept questioning her.

“The President pulled all US troops out. You are saying there were military commanders who told him that was a good idea, to pull all the American troops out,” he said.

“General Milley, General McKenzie, General Miller, they said something else. But the President’s top military advisers, others we won’t name, told him, ‘Sure, we can pull everyone out.’”

“That’s not how these conversations go,” Ms Psaki protested.

“It’s a risk assessment for every president about what is in the interest of the US, our military and our national interest.

“If we had kept 2500 troops there, we would have increased the number of troops, we would have been at war with the Taliban, we would have had more US casualties. That was a reality. Everybody was clear-eyed about it.

“There are some, as is evidenced by people testifying today, who felt we should have still done that. That is not the decision the President made.”

She moved on to another reporter, CBS News’ Weijia Jiang, but the interrogation continued.

“It might be helpful if you could just tell us, what do you mean by ‘split’? What were they split between?” Jiang asked.

“What’s confusing about that?” Ms Psaki said.

“Well it’s either, one, they were advising 2500 troops should remain on the ground, or two, that someone was advising that it should be zero,” said Jiang.

“Well again, Weijia, I think it’s important for the American people to know that these conversations don’t happen in black and white,” the Press Secretary responded.

“These conversations are about a range of options, about what the risk assessments are about every decision. And of course there are individuals who come forward with a range of recommendations on what the right path forward looks like.

“I’m not going to detail those here. They’re private conversations and advice to the President. Ultimately, regardless of the advice, it’s his decision.”

During the congressional hearing, Gen Milley was also asked about his actions in the final months of the Trump administration, as described by the recently published book Peril.

In that book, authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa say Gen Milley was so worried about the possibility of Mr Trump sparking a war with China before leaving office that he called his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng, to reassure him that the US would not attack.

“You are quoted in the Woodward book as telling the top commander, ‘If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time.’ Is that true, General Milley?” asked Republican Senator Dan Sullivan.

“Let me tell you what I actually said,” Gen Milley began.

“So that’s not true? I hope it’s not,” interjected Mr Sullivan.

“What I said is, if there is going to be a war, if there’s going to be an attack, there will be a lot of calls and tension ahead of time,” said Gen Milley.

“I was communicating to my Chinese counterpart – on instructions, by the way – to de-escalate the situation. And I told him we are not going to attack, President Trump has no intent to attack. I told him that repeatedly.

“And I told him, if there is going to be an attack, there will be plenty of communications going back and forth, your intel systems are going to pick it up.”

One of the book’s authors, Woodward, appeared on CNN after Gen Milley’s testimony.

“From your reporting, how close was the US to some kind of military conflict?” asked host Jake Tapper.

“Milley’s whole point is that miscommunication is the seed of war,” said Woodward.

“When this is all washed out, those who are saying that General Milley actually was treasonous in what he did, I think, are going to owe the General an apology.”

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2021-09-29 00:45:06Z

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