Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Mullen said the plan announced by Obama Wednesday -- a withdrawal of 10,000 troops this year and 20,000 more by the end of summer 2012 -- is "more aggressive" than he originally wanted but that he and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Afghanistan, support it and understand the potential upsides, The Hill reported.
"In a counterinsurgency, firepower is manpower," Mullen told lawmakers. "The president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. …
"It was more than I recommended. … More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course. But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so," Mullen said, adding the withdrawal plan will cut costs of the money-sucking conflict and allow the military to "reset our forces more quickly."
In addition, maintaining troop levels could have sent the message to the enemy and allies that the Taliban is strong enough "to warrant the full measure of our presence."
"They do not," Mullen said.
However, the planned drawdown does not represent an overall reduction in troop levels since Obama took office.
"Even after the recovery of the surge forces, totaling 33,000 troops, we will still have about 68,000 U.S. service members in Afghanistan," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said. "That's more than twice the number as when President Obama took office."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testifying Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said progress in the war enables the drawdown from a "position of strength," The New York Times reported.
"It would be totally understandable that a military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them," Clinton said. However, the commander "also knows that what he wants is just part of the overall decision matrix" and there are "other factors at work."
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., told Clinton "no rational review" of U.S. interests in the region could justify keeping 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at a cost of $120 billion per year at time when terrorist threats in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia are more urgent, The Washington Post reported.
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