General Says U.S. Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan Won’t Hamper War Effort

KABUL—The Army general charged with overseeing the U.S. military’s war effort in Afghanistan and across the Middle East arrived here Friday, saying the drawdown of American forces from Afghanistan would still leave commanders with enough capability to effectively prosecute the war.

Gen. Joe Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, arrived here Friday to conduct an assessment of the U.S. effort in the war, now in its 15th year. His visit follows President Barack Obama’s decision earlier this week to draw down fewer American forces by the time he leaves office, a decision made at the behest of the president’s generals in recognition that Afghanistan’s security situation remains a significant challenge.

Some military advisers and others had hoped Mr. Obama would allow the Pentagon to leave all of the roughly 10,000 U.S. troops there now. But in a decision announced this week ahead of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Warsaw, Mr. Obama said he would leave 8,448 troops performing missions in Afghanistan, about 3,000 more than the 5,500 who were to remain there under a plan Mr. Obama announced last fall.

Although the White House plan leaves more troops in Afghanistan, it amounts to a drawdown of forces when a resurgent Taliban and a new threat from Islamic State in Afghanistan pose enormous challenges. But Gen. Votel said the twin missions in Afghanistan, to train and advise Afghan forces as well as counterterrorism, wouldn’t suffer if there were fewer forces than the 10,000 that are there now.

“I don’t expect either of those to be significantly decremented by the numbers of forces we’re putting on the ground here,” Gen. Votel told reporters during a refueling stop for his military jet in Shannon, Ireland.

Gen. Votel said gains made by Afghan security forces in recent years helps make possible the lower number of American forces. He stressed that the new drawdown plan represented a net increase to what had been planned.

As is typically the case with such trips, Gen. Votel’s visit to Afghanistan wasn’t publicly announced until he arrived on the ground here.

Notably, Gen. Votel said the drawdown from 10,000 troops to the new number of 8,448, wasn’t expected to begin until later this fall. “We’re not in any particular rush to do that right now,” he said.

Gen. Votel’s arrival here also coincides with the beginning of the NATO summit in Warsaw in which Mr. Obama and his top cabinet officials will press allies to maintain or even increase their troop contributions to the mission in Afghanistan.

Many of those allies, have grown frustrated with Washington’s indecision on troop levels, thus contributing to uncertainty about their own plans.

Administration officials had insisted as recently as a month ago that Mr. Obama wasn’t expected to make a decision on troop levels until later this year, perhaps even as late as November.

But U.S. military advisers and Washington’s allies in Afghanistan pushed for clarity on the American posture in Afghanistan. Gen. Votel said he thought the timing of Mr. Obama’s announcement on troops would “encourage” Washington’s partners in Afghanistan to make further commitments there.

“Some of our partners will continue to step up and support the levels that they have been, and some probably beyond the levels that they have been,” Gen. Votel said.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold[a]