Washington: President Barack Obama's nominee for defence secretary on Wednesday said he would consider changing the current plans for withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year if security conditions worsen in the war-torn country.
"I understand we have a plan. The President has a plan (on Afghanistan). I support that plan (on drawdown of troops). At the same time, it's a plan. If I'm confirmed, and I ascertain as the years go by that we need to change that plan, I will recommend those changes to the President," Carter told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Carter was responding to a question from Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"Do you believe that it should be calendar based, as it is now, or should we be looking at the conditions on the ground to base those decisions?' the Senator asked.
"The campaign in Afghanistan has been close to my heart for all the time that I've been associated with the Department of Defence. I've been there a number of times. I think that success is possible there, but, requires the United States to continue its campaign and finish the job," Carter said.
"Yes" he said when asked if security conditions on the ground in Afghanistan degrade in 2016, would he consider recommending to the President revisions to the size and pace of the drawdown plan announced by the President in order to adequately address those security conditions.
Carter said the next two years represent an important transition period from more than a decade of war toward an enduring defence relationship with an Afghan partner that is capable of providing for its own security and preventing al Qaeda and other extremists from threatening US interests.
The NATO-led train, advise, and assist mission and the US counterterrorism mission are cornerstones within our overall strategy that will provide the Afghans an opportunity to make progress on the security situation in Afghanistan, and serve as a balance against terrorist exploitation of Afghan territory.
"If confirmed, I will continue to seek the advice of our military leadership and partners," he said.
Carter said the new government in Kabul will be the biggest driver in whether Afghanistan has a positive future.
Responding to a question, he said he supports the current authorised level of 352,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) personnel and will work with Congress to ensure that US efforts to sustain this force are appropriately resourced.
Reiterating that the US supports an Afghan-led political peace process in which all opposition groups, including the Taliban, engage in a dialogue about the future of their country, Carter said the US should continue to support the new President's efforts to engage in peace talks.