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Senate Panel Grills Candidate to Head Central Command

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The general assigned to head the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East was grilled on Thursday about Afghanistan and Iraq by members on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As it happened Army Gen. Lloyd Austin oversaw the final drawdown of forces in Iraq in 2011 that left virtually no American soldiers other than those who protected the embassy in Baghdad.

At the time, Austin's recommendation was for a force of above 3,500 troops but because Baghdad refused to grant U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution, the Obama administration decided against leaving a residual force.

Austin told the Senate panel that he found ongoing violence in Iraq troubling and that a residual force might have acted as a stabilizing influence as Iraqi national soldiers and police still get their bearings.

Meanwhile, the general suggested that plans for the U.S. and its coalition partners to fund a reduced Afghan force of 230,000 after 2014 could result in shakier security with the Taliban still threatening to take over the country.

Austin added that he has no input yet on the Obama administration's post-Afghanistan war strategy and how many American forces will be left there when the major withdrawal is completed next year.

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