WASHINGTON — The US commander in the Afghan war said Thursday he disgreed with President Barack Obama’s decision for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan but ruled out resigning in protest.
General David Petraeus, the outgoing commander of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he favored a more modest timeline for a troop withdrawal but told senators it was his duty to carry out the decision.
Asked by Senator Carl Levin if he was prepared to resign over war policy, Petraeus said: “I don’t think it’s the place for the commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation.”
Petraeus indicated that he had received emails suggesting he should quit in protest.
“I’ve had people email and say that.”
But Petraeus, his voice rising, said: “I feel actually quite strongly about this. Our troopers don’t get to quit. And I don’t think commanders should contemplate that as any kind of idle action.”
The four-star officer, celebrated by many lawmakers for his role in salvaging the war in Iraq, said Obama ended up deciding on a more “aggressive” troop withdrawal in Afghanistan than he or his fellow officers recommended.
But Petraeus said the US president had to take into account more than just purely military factors.
“The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended,” Petraeus told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He said it “is understandable in the sense that there are broader considerations beyond just those of the military command,” an apparent reference to political and financial pressures.
Petraeus spoke a day after Obama announced plans to withdraw 33,000 surge troops by the end of September 2012, with the first 10,000 due to depart this year.
He acknowledged that he had wanted the bulk of the surge force in place through next summer’s fighting season but said the military would do its utmost to carry out the decision.
“I provided assessments of risk, I provided recommendations, we discussed all of this, again, at considerable length,” the general said.
Once the president made his decision, it is “the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything possible to execute it.”
Earlier, Levin asked the general if he was “comfortable” with the drawdown even if he had advised a more cautious approach, but Petraeus said he was not ready to accept that description.
He added “that there’s never been a military commander in history who has had all the forces he would like to have for all the time with all the money, all the authority and nowadays with all the bandwidth as well.”