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WASHINGTON – Gen. David Petraeus said President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan drawdown plan was “more aggressive” than military commanders recommended, but he supported the president’s decision.

Petraeus’ remarks came Thursday during his Senate confirmation hearing to be the next CIA director, less than 24 hours after Obama announced he would remove 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also backed Obama’s plan in Capitol Hill appearances earlier Thursday.

For days leading to the announcement, reports had surfaced that Obama would reject the advice of his generals by favoring a quicker withdrawal.

Petraeus said Obama’s decision removes troops faster than he, Mullen and Central Command’s Gen. James Mattis had wanted, but he presented the president with a range of options.

Petraeus told Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that some had called for him to resign in opposition to the president’s decision.

“Our troopers don’t get to quit. And I don’t think commanders should get to consider that,” he said, speaking more passionately and asking for more time to make a statement.

When the commander-in-chief makes a decision, it is the duty of top-level officers, he said, “to execute that decision to the best of our ability.”

Departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an interview with the Agence-France Presse on Thursday, said, “I would just say, both from my experience in this job and as a historian, I'm not aware of a single general ever in history that did not want more troops and more time.”

“The big question mark last year was whether, this fighting season, the Taliban would take back … what we had gained in throwing them out of Kandahar and Helmand. We are not halfway through this fighting season, and they have not even tried to do that. … And so if we can get most of another fighting season under our belt, we could, I think, cement the success that we have.”

Petraeus arrived at his confirmation hearing with an opening statement designed to ease fears he would bring too much military and Afghanistan baggage to the historically independent and globally focused CIA.

He barely mentioned the war and made no mention of Osama bin Laden.

Instead, the general said he would not bring any of his military staff with him to the CIA.

“If confirmed, I will, in short, get out of my vehicle alone on the day that I report to Langley,” he said.

But the Senate wanted to talk about Afghanistan. Most questions focused on the president’s decision or the strategy moving forward. Others asked about global terrorism or what to do about detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some urged focusing on al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s growing operations in Yemen.

Nearly all of the senators praised Petraeus as one of the most decorated and experienced Americans deserving of a senior national security post.

“My own view is you’re going to be a terrific asset,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., committee chairwoman.

In Washington, pundits have speculated Petraeus was sent to CIA against his will as a way to give the giant personality a post that removes him from direct Afghanistan War planning. But Petraeus said that Gates began discussing the idea of having the general take over CIA as far back as a year ago.

“I wanted this job,” he said.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter:@StripesBaron

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