US commander wants administration review of Afghan drawdown plan

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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. 

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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that it's appropriate to go back and review that plan and make adjustments" as the facts change and "assumptions are no longer valid."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 McCainGreen Beret awarded for heroism during 'pandemonium' of Boston bombing House passes bill exempting some from ObamaCare mandate NBC's Lester Holt emerges from debate bruised and partisan 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 ReedOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices Week ahead: Negotiators near deal on 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 ShaheenDems call for better birth control access for female troops GOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Senators seek to boost women in international forces 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 KingWells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel Pentagon chief: 9/11 bill could be used against US troops GOP chairman: White House ‘running rogue’ on water rule 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.