Hagel rejects idea of Afghan drawdown flexibility

LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

STUTTGART, Germany (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday rejected suggestions that the military should have greater flexibility to rethink its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2016 and allow commanders to make some decisions based on the conditions in the country.

Hagel said President Barack Obama’s decision to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan to less than 5,000 by the end of 2015 and leave only about 1,000 in a security office after the end of 2016 will stand.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan told Congress last month that commanders didn’t recommend a hard date for the troop withdrawal at the end of 2016 and would rather re-evaluate the decisions based on conditions there. During his confirmation hearing to be Marine commandant, Gen. Joseph Dunford said the insurgent threat and the capabilities of the Afghan forces should be considered.

Dunford also told the panel that U.S. and Afghan military leaders would have preferred to see American officials be “a bit more ambiguous” about the troop numbers and not telegraph to the enemy that international forces would leave by the end of 2016.

But Hagel Wednesday said that while commanders always need some flexibility, “generally those decisions have been made. We’re proceeding on that basis.”

In other comments, Hagel said the recent insider attacks in Afghanistan, including the one Tuesday that killed an American two-star general, will not deter the U.S. commitment to the country.

An Afghan soldier killed Maj. Gen. Harold Greene and wounded 15 others including U.S., German and Afghan troops at a training center.

“The episode that happened yesterday in Afghanistan is not going to affect our decision or resolve to continue moving forward on an enduring presence post-2014,” said Hagel.

Hagel said he wrote a condolence note to Greene’s family on Tuesday, adding “when you lose anybody, it’s tough.”

Hagel was in Stuttgart to meet with military leaders at U.S. European Command at the start of a weeklong international trip that will also take him to India and Australia.

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