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Obama's Afghanistan plan draws fire

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. military's top officer told Congress on Thursday that President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw up to 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer is risky but keeps the U.S. and its allies on a path toward stabilizing the country.

In testimony to separate congressional panels, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton left no doubt that Obama chose a quicker path to winding down U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan than his generals preferred.

"The president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept," Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee.

"More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course," he added.

"But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so."

Obama announced Wednesday evening that the U.S. and its allies had achieved enough in Afghanistan to merit a drawdown of forces beginning this summer. Obama said 10,000 troops would come home by the end of this year, to be followed by as many as 23,000 by the end of next summer.

That will leave about 68,000 U.S. troops there.

On Thursday, President  Obama told those who've fought in Afghanistan that the U.S. has turned a corner in that country and can begin to bring troops still in that country back home.

The president told troops at Fort Drum in upstate New York that the drawdown he announced Wednesday night won't happen precipitously but in a steady way that makes sure the gains they helped bring about would be sustained.

But the president said the job isn't finished and, in his words, "There's still some fighting to be done."

Clinton testifies

In her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton tacitly acknowledged the military had wanted more troops to remain for a longer period of time.

"I think it would be totally understandable that a military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them," Clinton said. "But any military commander with the level of expertise and experience that Gen. Petraeus has also knows that what he wants is just part of the overall decision matrix and that there are other factors at work." David Petraeus is the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

"So, at the end of the day, I think that the president made the right decision," Clinton added.

Petraeus has not commented publicly on Obama's plan. He was scheduled to testify later Thursday at a confirmation hearing on his nomination to lead the CIA.

Clinton said the drawdown is timed to leave some of the approximately 30,000 "surge" forces Obama had added in place through the spring and summer of next year - traditionally the heaviest fighting period each year.

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