Published March 05, 2013
The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East testified Tuesday that he envisioned keeping 20,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 end of combat operations, revealing a recommendation that would be sharply at odds with the administration's policy.
Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command -- who reportedly is being pushed out early by the Obama administration -- testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said he wanted to keep 13,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, with NATO making up the rest.
"We have to send a message of commitment," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But the number is far more than the White House would like. U.S. and NATO leaders said last month that they may keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after combat troops leave by Dec. 31, 2014. At a NATO meeting in Brussels, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged the range being considered, but noted that no final decision has been made.
Fox News has learned that the administration's desired post-2014 troop presence does not exceed 10,000.
It is rare for senior military officials to reveal their personal White House recommendations in congressional testimony. Doing so potentially puts the White House in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge they decided against the recommendation of military leadership.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Mattis was pushed out of his CENTCOM post over disagreements with Obama administration officials over policies toward Iran and other international issues. The Pentagon, though, strongly disputed the claim.
In his testimony Tuesday, Mattis also said the current sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are not working.
Mattis said Iran is at the point of "enriching uranium beyond and plausible peaceful purpose." He called 2013 the "year of reckoning" with regards to Iran's nuclear program.
The comment comes after Vice President Biden, speaking at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said President Obama is "not bluffing" on the threat of using military force to stop Iran's nuclear program.
Fox News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.