General asks Obama for year-long pause in troop withdrawals from Afghanistan

NATO commander Gen. John Allen wants troop levels in Afghanistan to plateau at 68,000 throughout 2013

From Ben Farmer, the Telegraph:  Gen John Allen is opposing Barack Obama’s strategy of steadily pulling out troops over the next three years and argues a premature decline will jeopardise security gains made in the past year.

Mr Obama announced in June that United States troop levels would fall from their current 97,000 to around 68,000 by September 2012 and continue to leave Afghanistan afterwards at a "steady pace".

Gen Allen instead wants troop levels to plateau at 68,000 throughout 2013, before withdrawal resumes in 2014, sources in Kabul said.

The American president has yet to respond to the general’s suggestion, but it has been not been welcomed by administration officials according to one senior officer familiar with the discussions. . . .

The senior officer told the Daily Telegraph that deciding where to cut the 30,000 troops due to leave by September had involved "very tough decisions" and Gen Allen wanted a breathing space to continue pressure on the Taliban.

A senior official in Kabul confirmed Nato top brass wanted to keep troop levels constant for at least a year, but predicted Mr Obama would seek to promise a further withdrawal before November’s US elections.

Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, spokesman for Nato forces in Kabul said: "General Allen communicates with his chain of command all the way up to the White House, but I cannot confirm the details of those conversations . . . .

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Kabul, denounced the 2014 deadline for withdrawal of combat troops as "tactics without strategy" if it was not accompanied by a push for a peace process.

He said: "It is very questionable – it’s worse than questionable, it’s disgraceful if it’s not accompanied by serious political strategy."

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