US commander wants administration review of Afghan drawdown plan

US commander wants administration review of Afghan drawdown plan
© Getty Images

The top U.S. general in the Middle East said the Obama administration should review its plan to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 9,800 troops to 5,500 by the end of the year. 

"I think you have to go back and review the plan," Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Austin said the Taliban is now "more active" in the country, and is challenging Afghan security forces.  

Austin said the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson, is assessing the situation on the ground now. He also noted that the drawdown plan is being studied by military officials at "all levels." 

He stopped short of making any recommendations to leave more than 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however, adding that it's appropriate to go back and review that plan and make adjustments" as the facts change and "assumptions are no longer valid." 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainMcCain returning to Senate in time for health vote Senate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Overnight Healthcare: Trump pressures GOP ahead of vote | McConnell urges Senate to start debate | Cornyn floats conference on House, Senate bills | Thune sees progress on Medicaid MORE (R-Ariz.) said halving the U.S. presence in Afghanistan would risk squandering U.S. gains in the country. 

“What all of this translates to is risk: risk that problems and contingencies once addressed in days will be addressed in months, that is if they are addressed at all; risk that sudden tactical or operational setbacks that would have been in our power to reverse will put Afghanistan on a path to strategic failure we will be powerless to stop and risk that the gains won by the sacrifices of American and Afghan troops will be squandered," he said in his opening statement. 

Several Democrats on the committee also expressed concern. 

Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedSenate Dems launch talkathon ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Armed Services leaders appoint strategy panel members Senators ask for Syria policy study in defense bill MORE (D-R.I.), ranking member of the committee, said Nicholson's recommendations "must be given most serious consideration since he's on the battlefield and closest to the issue."  

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Gore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Senators ask for Syria policy study in defense bill MORE of New Hampshire said reports of Taliban making gains in the southern province of Helmand — where U.S. troops launched the 2009 surge — are "distressing." 

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingWeek ahead: Senate defense bill faces delay Trump ally LePage may run for Senate in Maine Senate confirms Trump's 'regulatory czar' MORE (I-Maine) also expressed concern over a calendar-based drawdown.

"It concerns me that we again are back into being calendar driven rather than conditions driven," King said. 

This story was updated at 4:32 p.m.