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US commander wants administration review of Afghan drawdown plan

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that it's appropriate to go back and review that plan and make adjustments" as the facts change and "assumptions are no longer valid."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 Sidney McCainOn The Money: GOP digs in on defending Trump tax cuts | Democrats bullish on raising minimum wage | Financial sector braces for Biden's consumer bureau pick No. 2 Senate Democrat says minimum wage can be increased with simple majority vote State-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss 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 Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Senate confirms Austin to lead Pentagon under Biden 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 ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenModerates vow to 'be a force' under Biden Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Bipartisan group of senators: The election is over 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 KingBiden's bipartisan push hits wall on COVID-19 relief bill Moderates vow to 'be a force' under Biden Biden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan 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.