* General supports Obama plan for withdrawing U.S. troops
* No change seen in Pakistan in near future
By Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON, June 28 The U.S. general poised to
take command of Western forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday
embraced President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw a third of
U.S. troops, saying it can be done without undermining the war
Lieutenant General John Allen, expected to be confirmed as
commander of U.S. and NATO forces, stood in contrast to other
top U.S. brass in his unqualified support for the plan to pull
33,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next 15 months.
"We have made really spectacular progress in the south ...
We're going to consolidate that progress," Allen told members
of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We anticipate we will continue to achieve the objectives
of the campaign," he said, despite challenges from lawmakers
who see long odds in the Obama administration's gamble to
conduct the war with fewer troops and a tighter timeline.
Allen will replace General David Petraeus, who acknowledged
that Obama's decision last week to pull the entire 'surge'
force he sent to Afghanistan by September 2012 was a more
aggressive step than he had recommended. [ID:nL3E7HN0LX]
Obama's top military advisors like Admiral Mike Mullen,
chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were unusually
candid about Obama's plan. They said they had initially been
uncomfortable with an accelerated drawdown, but ultimately
In Afghanistan, Allen will seek to repeat his experience as
a commander in western Iraq in 2007-08, when tribal leaders'
decision to join the fight against an al Qaeda spinoff group in
Iraq helped the United States halt spiraling violence.
He said the reduction of U.S. soldiers would be blunted by
the growth in Afghan forces, which are expected to increase by
some 70,000 by the time the initial drawdown is completed by
the fall of 2012.
That did not placate some lawmakers who see Obama's
decision as rooted in political considerations rather than
"After all that we've given to this mission, the money
we've committed to it, the decade we have devoted to it and the
precious lives we've lost in it, why would we do anything now
that puts our mission at greater risk of failure?" asked
Republican Senator John McCain.
Obama is keen to curtail the U.S. role in Afghanistan,
which costs over $110 billion a year, as he faces pressure to
cut spending and launches his 2012 re-election bid.
But the plan announced last week was attacked both by those
who want U.S. troops home more quickly and those who fear a
hasty exit will allow Afghanistan to unravel into lawlessness
PEERING ACROSS AT PAKISTAN
Allen, who until recently was deputy commander of U.S.
Central Command, acknowledged he would face major challenges in
Afghanistan, where the Taliban will seek to regain lost
territory just as a shaky local army takes over in some areas.
A renewed Taliban blitz could make it even more difficult
for the Obama administration to show headway in its nonmilitary
campaign to shore up Afghanistan's weak government and
encourage President Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption.
Allen said he would advise Obama if the situation on the
ground might warrant a change in the military plan.
Events in neighboring Pakistan will also be crucial to
Allen's success in Afghanistan, and he expressed hope that
leaders in Islamabad would step up efforts to disable militant
groups such as the Haqqani network that operate from Pakistan's
western tribal areas.
U.S.-Pakistani ties hit a low point after last month's
secret U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in
Pakistan, fueling suspicions in Washington about the country's
links to extremist groups.
Vice Admiral William McRaven, who also testified at the
hearing as Obama's nominee to head U.S. Special Operations
Command, said he didn't expect more Pakistani action against
certain militant groups in the short term.
"I don't think it is likely to change," he said. "It is
both a capacity issue for the Pakistanis and I think
potentially a willingness issue."
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Vicki
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