Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said the House Armed Services Committee today he endorses President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan troop withdrawal plan, even though he initially wanted a less accelerated timetable.
In a primetime address last night, Obama announced that 33,000 U.S. troops, about the same number of troops committed there in the 2009 “surge,” will return by September 2012.
Of that, some 10,000 troops will return by the end of the year.
The current strategy is working, Mullen, who will retire in September, told the panel. “We have made extraordinary progress against the mission we have been assigned and are, therefore, now in a position to begin a responsible transition out of Afghanistan,” he said, according to an American Forces Press Service report.
He added that top commanders on the ground will be responsible for setting the pace for withdrawal.
“There’s no ‘jumping ship’ here — quite the contrary,” Mullen said. “We will have at our disposal the great bulk of the surge forces throughout this, and most of the next, fighting season.”
However, Mullen did acknowledge that Obama’s decisions were “more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.”
And he was clear on one point: Keeping large numbers of troops in Afghanistan ultimately would have negatively impacted the development of Afghan security forces.
“We would have denied the Afghan security forces, who’ve grown in capability, opportunities to further exercise that capability and to lead,” he explained. “We would have signaled to the enemy and to our regional partners that the Taliban still possess strength enough to warrant the full measure of our presence. They do not.”