Afghan drawdown poses risk, U.S. military warns

Fri Jun 24, 2011 2:55am GMT

By Phil Stewart and Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. military commanders distanced themselves on Thursday from President Barack Obama's timetable for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, telling Congress they had sought a slower, less risky drawdown.

General David Petraeus, who is leading the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were clear in stating their public support for the decision Obama announced on Wednesday and said they would do their best to carry it out.

But at the same time they warned that the pace of the drawdown, which calls for a third of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to leave by the end of next summer, would create additional risks to the unpopular, nearly decade-old campaign.

"The president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept," Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, told a House of Representatives committee hearing.

Pressed by lawmakers, Mullen later added that he had concluded that the risks were manageable.

Petraeus scoffed at a suggestion he could have resigned over the president's plan. Obama, he said, ultimately had to factor in more than just battlefield conditions when making his decision -- an apparent reference to crumbling domestic support for the Afghan war.

"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 Senate 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.   Continued...

<p>US army soldiers from Charlie company 4th platoon,1st brigade 3-21 infantry, patrol in the village of Chariagen in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province southern Afghanistan June 22 , 2011. REUTERS/Baz Ratner</p>
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