WASHINGTON, DC -- It's been nearly one month since the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on President Joe Biden's order to leave by Aug. 31, ending a chaotic evacuation operation after the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized the capital Kabul.
Since then, the U.S. has facilitated the departure of at least 85 U.S. citizens and 79 lawful permanent residents, according to a senior State Department official. In the coming days, they expect to evacuate around 100 more U.S. citizens and residents from the Kabul area.
Top Pentagon leaders appeared before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday amid bipartisan criticism of the chaotic withdrawal and on the failure to anticipate the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.
The nation’s military leaders -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, have all said their recommendations on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan were given to President Biden and heard.
McKenzie said his recommendation was to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan beyond Biden's Aug. 31 deadline, believing a full withdrawal would lead to inevitable collapse.
"I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. And I also recommended earlier in the fall of 2020 that we would maintain 4,500 at that time -- those are my personal views. I also had a view that the withdrawal of those forces would lead inevitably to the collapse of the Afghan military forces, and eventually the Afghan government," McKenzie said.
Biden told ABC News in an exclusive interview in August that "no one" that "he can recall" advised him to keep a force of 2,500 troops behind.
GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, pressed Milley on whether he specifically recommended to Biden that 2,500 troops stay in Afghanistan, as McKenzie had suggested. Milley wouldn’t comment on his personal conversations but gave his assessment from last fall and added he’s "always candid" with the president.
"My assessment was back in the fall of '20 and remained consistent throughout that we should keep a steady state of 2,500, could bounce up to 3,500, something like that, to move towards the negotiated gated solution," he said.
Cotton then turned to Austin and raised the question to him, citing Biden’s interview with ABC News.
"Senator Cotton, I believe that -- first of all, I know the president to be an honest and forthright man. And secondly," Austin said, before Cotton interrupted him to ask again if their recommendations got to Biden.
"Their input was received by the president and considered by the president for sure," Austin said. "In terms of what they specifically recommended, senator, they just, as they just said, they're not going to provide what they recommended in confidence."