WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. military distanced itself yesterday from President Barack Obama’s plan for a faster-than-expected withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, but the top commander there said it was not the kind of decision he would quit over.
General David Petraeus, who is leading the decade-old U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they did not recommend the plan that Obama announced on Wednesday: withdrawing nearly a third of U.S. forces by the end of next summer.
The first 10,000 will pull out this year.
Petraeus and Mullen warned the plan created additional risks to the unpopular campaign in Afghanistan, but added they supported Obama’s decision and said success in the counterinsurgency mission was still achievable.
“It is again a more aggressive approach than (top commanders) and I would have indeed certainly put forward, but this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest, or something like that,” Petraeus said at his nomination hearing to become the next CIA director.
Obama, speaking to about 200 soldiers at an Army base in upstate New York, defended his drawdown timetable and said the United States had turned a corner in the campaign that would allow for withdrawal.
“We’re not doing it precipitously. We’re going to do it in a steady way to make sure that the gains that all of you helped to bring about are going to be sustained,” he told soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, listening mostly in silence.
Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, acknowledged at a separate hearing that Obama’s decisions were “more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.” Still, he said those risks were manageable.
The military’s comments, while carefully phrased, were an unusually blunt public admission of Pentagon resistance to the kind of speedy Afghan drawdown that Obama settled on. Military leaders had lobbied privately for more time, and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates said publicly any troop withdrawal should be modest.
In Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Washington’s ally in a relationship made tense by allegations of incompetence and corruption, welcomed the plan for a gradual pullout and said Afghans increasingly trusted their security forces.