By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – President Barack Obama considered the military implications of a drawdown in Afghanistan, as well as broader considerations, in deciding to remove surge forces by the end of next summer, Army Gen. David Petraeus said today.
The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan spoke before the Senate Intelligence Committee here during a hearing to confirm his nomination as the next CIA director.
Petraeus described White House discussions about the drawdown of 33,000 troops by the end of next summer, which the president announced last night, as “vigorous.”
“All voices were heard in the Situation Room and, ultimately, the decision was made,” he said.
The general said he supports the decision and will do all he can to implement it during his remaining time in Afghanistan, and if confirmed, at CIA.
Petraeus said his responsibility as a combat commander was to give the president options for implementing his stated policy, as well as the risks involved. But, he said, other advisors were responsible for raising considerations beyond the military.
“Each person above me, all the way up to and including the president, has a broader view and has broader considerations that are brought to bear,” he said, “with the president alone in the position of evaluating all those different considerations.”
Petraeus acknowledged that the ultimate decision was “a more aggressive formulation in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended.” But, he said, it was “understandable in the sense that there are broader considerations beyond those of a military commander.”
Troops will begin transitioning home next month from seven locations in Afghanistan, Petraeus said, including the capital of Kabul and its surrounding province, two other provinces, and four municipal districts.
A transition, essentially, has already has taken place in each area, the general said, adding that it is “striking” that Lashkar Gah and surrounding Helmand province – the hotbed of the insurgency when Marines deployed there a year ago – is among them.
“This is made possible because, over time, [International Security Assistance Forces] have thinned out and Afghan forces have very much stood up to the point that there are virtually no ISAF forces policing the streets there, nor are they in Kabul,” he said.
More troops will leave Afghanistan this fall, and again in the spring and fall of 2012, Petraeus said.
Commanders on the ground have some flexibility in determining which forces leave, the general said. Already, some troops are going home without replacement, and others have been identified, he added.
“We’re constantly refining and updating our campaign plan, and we’ll do another round of that with the decision having been made,” he said.
Even while U.S. forces are leaving Afghanistan, Petraeus said, “Some 70,000 additional Afghan forces [will be] added, based on our projections.”
These include 50,000 Afghan soldiers and national police, and 20,000 or so Afghan Public Protection forces, security contractors under the control of the Interior Ministry. He called their addition “a very important action that is just beginning.”
Other forces on the ground, he said, include those supported by various agencies, and international elements such as counterterrorist pursuit teams under the Afghan intelligence service.
“It will be critical that we accelerate this as much as we can,” Petraeus said, “ … so we can do that handoff [to Afghan forces] as our forces thin out.”