President Biden’s decision to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan ran counter to the recommendations of his top military commanders, who feared it could undermine security in the country.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, who leads NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all recommended retaining the current force of 2,500 troops while stepping up diplomacy to try to cement a peace agreement, U.S. officials say.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, himself a retired military commander for the region, shared the concerns of the senior officers, cautioning that withdrawing all U.S. troops would suspend what amounted to an insurance policy for maintaining a modicum of stability in the country, the officials said.
Mr. Biden carefully weighed the military’s input, officials say, but was determined to bring involvement in America’s longest-running war to an end by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that led to U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan.
Mr. Austin and Gen. Milley first learned that the president had made up his mind about the withdrawal on April 6, when they attended the president’s daily intelligence briefing. As Mr. Biden outlined his thoughts on Afghanistan, they asked if he had arrived at his decision.