Barack Obama’s timetable for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan is riskier than military chiefs would have liked, according to some senior commanders.
The US president told troops who have just returned from the country that they were not being brought home in a rush.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, says he wanted a slower withdrawal, but acknowledges the political reasons for the plan.
“The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we recommended. Again, that is understandable in the sense that there are broader considerations beyond just those of a military commander,” he told a House of Representatives committee hearing.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he concluded the risks were manageable, even though he said the president’s decisions were “more aggressive and incur more risk” than he had originally accepted.
Both chiefs stated their public support for the decision and said they would do their best to carry it out.
Under Obama’s plan announced this week, a third of the US force of 99,000 in Afghanistan will be brought home over the next 15 months.
10,000 will return by the end of this year, another 23,000 by September 2012.
The president argues security gains will not be jeopardised, stressing that “the job’s not finished” and “there’s still fighting to be done”.
European countries fighting alongside the Americans are following suit. Germany will begin reducing its force by the end of the year. French troops will start leaving next month. Britain says the pace of its troop withdrawal – to be completed by 2015 – will depend on the situation on the ground.