June 02, 2011

Mullen says Afghanistan Withdrawal Pace Uncertain

As the Obama administration awaits the Pentagon's recommendation on troop cuts in Afghanistan, military leaders said Thursday that the reduction must not jeopardize the progress made in the past year toward securing the country.

The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, has not yet made his recommendation on the widely expected withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But it will come in the next few weeks and move rapidly after that, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday.

Adm. Mike Mullen warned that while no one knows yet how deep the initial cut will be, it must not erode the gains troops have made.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, said there should not be a drawdown so rapid that it outpaces the abilities of Afghan soldiers and police to handle security.

If that should happen, the Taliban could regain a foothold, Rodriguez said.

Some lawmakers have suggested that the killing of Osama bin Laden last month should result in a more rapid end to the U.S. involvement in the protracted war.

President Barack Obama has said the drawdown of troops will begin in July. Obama is likely to announce his decision late this month about the size of that initial withdrawal. Military officials also expect a forecast for further drawdowns over the next several months.

Rodriguez said Afghan forces must be pushed into the lead in more regions across the country.

"We have to start taking more risk and have more trust in them," Rodriguez told a conference Thursday at the Center for a New American Security.

The comments come as Democrats in the House Democrats met with Obama at the White House on Thursday, pressing for an end to the war.

Rep. Jim McGovern said he told the president, "we need to get out of Afghanistan.""I told him we're broke," McGovern told reporters after the meeting. "The American people want an end to it."

McGovern said Obama was sympathetic but gave no assurances.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich said Obama told lawmakers he was committed to a withdrawal but offered no indication to how many troops he would start drawing down.

Rodriguez said he expects Afghan leaders to decide in August which additional regions in the country can be shifted from U.S. to Afghan military control.

Herat, western Afghanistan's largest city, is one of seven areas scheduled to be handed over to Afghan control in July as the first step of the transition of nationwide security responsibility to the Afghan troops.

There are roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.