Afghan drawdown poses risk, U.S. military warns

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.

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