President Joe Biden contradicted his top military officer on who was to blame for the controversial decision to abandon Bagram Air Base prior to the final withdrawal from Afghanistan.
President Biden blamed his military advisers for the July withdrawal of troops from Bagram, a decision that has come under fire because it forced fleeing Americans and Afghans to a single evacuation point at the Kabul airport after the Taliban takeover of the country. After suicide bombings at the airport and a hotel left at least 13 American troops and 200 Afghans dead, Biden told reporters that defense officials suggested that the air base would not be of strategic importance as American forces left the nation.
"On tactical questions on how to conduct an evacuation or a war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan … I ask for their best military judgment," said Biden. "They concluded, the military, that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul, and so I followed that recommendation."
Biden's statement differs from the explanation offered by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Milley said the decision to leave Bagram—the United States' largest installation in the country—was due not to strategy but to personnel constraints.
"Our task given to us at that time, our task was [to] protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consular service and all that," Milley told reporters on Aug. 18. "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. So we had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made."
The dispute over Bagram is not the first instance of friction between the commander in chief and his top military advisers. Biden reportedly pushed aside advice from Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who both proposed that the United States keep a troop presence in Afghanistan. After Biden decided on a withdrawal in spite of their warnings, the Taliban waged a lethal campaign to retake Afghanistan. Thursday's suicide attacks marked the deadliest day for American troops in Afghanistan since 2011.
American forces are expected to complete the withdrawal by Tuesday.