May 2, 2012 – 6:13 p.m.

Levin Urges Steady Pace in Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

The top defense policy lawmaker in the Senate said Wednesday that he believes any decision on the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan should wait until the fighting season is over in the fall.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services panel, said he expects a spirited debate during his committee’s consideration of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill later this month. He indicated there are competing pressures to delay withdrawal, slow its pace or speed it up.

But he said he believed the right path would be to continue gradually drawing down forces after the 23,000 soldiers left from the president’s original troop surge are removed from Afghanistan in September.

“There will be pressure both ways: pressure to do it more quickly or pressure to pause and not going beyond the reduction of the surge force,” Levin said. “I am one to believe what the president said, that the reduction proceeding at a steady pace is the way to go because, again, what we have already seen: real urgency to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”

Levin said he and fellow panel member Jack Reed, D-R.I., traveled to small Afghan units operating in the east and south of the country and witnessed a “shift of authority, planning and execution from our guys to the Afghans.”

Levin said he hoped members of his panel would be willing to accept and wait for the recommendations of military commanders to the president before seeking any decision. He also said a NATO summit scheduled later this month should not presuppose anything about force levels, now or after 2014.

Reed, in particular, said commanders should at that time consider the threat, the capabilities of the Afghan security forces and the support to be provided by allied forces in determining a framework that would work after 2014, after most U.S. combat forces have left Afghanistan.

Levin, ranking panel Republican John McCain of Arizona, Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently wrote a letter to the president raising concerns that leaders in NATO and Afghanistan already may be considering reducing the size of Afghan forces after 2014, primarily in an effort to reduce costs.

Levin said he left Afghanistan assured by U.S. commanders there that no decision about force size has been made, and none would be made at the NATO summit in Chicago later this month, and one would not be made until 2014.

“The important thing to me is there has been no decision made and no numerical or dollar decision will appear in Chicago,” Levin said.

Senate Armed Services subcommittees begin marking up the defense authorization bill May 22 and 23, with the full panel slated to take up the bill May 23.