June 29th, 2010
12:39 PM ET

Bickering over Afghan troop withdrawal date marks Petraeus hearing

A Senate committee hearing on Gen. David Petraeus, picked by President Barack Obama to be the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was marked Tuesday by bickering over Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, stressed the date's importance, saying it "imparts a sense of urgency to Afghan leaders" and is an important method of "spurring action." When the date was announced, Levin said, there was a surge in recruits for the Afghan army.

But Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, said Obama should make clear that any U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will be determined "solely by conditions on the ground."

Potential allies are less willing to back the U.S. mission in Afghanistan because they believe American troops will leave in July 2011, he said, and announcing a date to begin troop withdrawals is making the war "harder" and "longer." The "facts on the ground" suggest more time is needed, McCain said.

The "same people" who were "defeatist" about the war in Iraq now have a similar attitude toward the Afghan war, McCain said.

The deadline has been a source of contention between Obama and Republican critics. Petraeus, however, told lawmakers he supports and agrees with it.

"I saw (the establishment of the date) most importantly as the message of urgency to accompany the message of enormous (increased U.S.) commitment," he said.

The general pointed to Obama's recent reminder that "July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights." He quoted Obama as saying, "We'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."

"Moreover, as President (Hamid) Karzai has recognized, and as a number of allied leaders noted at the recent G-20 summit, it is going to be a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the security tasks in Afghanistan on their own," Petraeus said.

"The commitment to Afghanistan is necessarily, therefore, an enduring one, and neither the Taliban nor our Afghan and Pakistani partners should doubt that."

The general offered praise for his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned last week as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan after he and his staff were quoted in a Rolling Stone magazine article criticizing and mocking key administration officials.

"Gen. McChrystal has devoted his entire professional life to the defense of this nation, and he and his family have made enormous personal sacrifices," Petraeus said. "I can attest, for example, that the success of the surge in Iraq would not have been possible without Gen. McChrystal's exceptional leadership of our special mission unit forces there.

"Most importantly, of course, he has made enormous contributions in leading the coalition endeavor in Afghanistan over the past year," Petraeus said. "We now see some areas of progress amidst the tough fight ongoing in Afghanistan. Considerable credit for that must go to Stan McChrystal."

And Petraeus strongly defended the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, telling senators "we should never forget that the 9/11 attacks were planned in southern Afghanistan and that the initial training of the attackers was carried out in camps in Afghanistan."

"Our task in Afghanistan is clear," he said. "We cannot allow al Qaeda or other transnational extremist elements to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies."

Conditions in Afghanistan have drawn increased scrutiny recently. More than two-thirds of the additional troops Obama ordered into Afghanistan in December are there now, but the momentum of the Taliban has not slowed, and U.S. troop deaths are mounting. In addition, the war - the longest in U.S. history - faces challenges that include problems with Karzai's government and drug trafficking.

Petraeus said Tuesday he was "part of the process that helped formulate the president's strategy for Afghanistan," and he supports and agrees with Obama's policy. "During its development, I offered my forthright military advice and I have assured the president that I will do the same as we conduct assessments over the course of the months ahead."

He said he is aware of concerns raised by some troops on the ground "about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue."

"The (current Afghan) campaign plan is sound," he said, but he told lawmakers he will see whether "tweaks" are needed. "By and large, I think this is more about executing now than it is about redesign," he said.

Until this year, he said, the Taliban and its affiliates had "steadily been expanding the areas they control and influence."

But this year, American troops have made progress in several locations, he said. "The initial main effort has been in the Central Helmand River Valley. And Afghan, U.S. and U.K. forces have expanded security there, though, predictably, the enemy has fought back as we have taken away (extremists') sanctuaries. ... Nothing has been easy in those operations."

Petraeus also highlighted the U.S. troop buildup in Kandahar province, "an area of considerable importance to the Taliban."

Petraeus acknowledged, however, that military operations in Afghanistan's Marjah province are not going as well "as the most optimistic (initial) predictions." While progress is being made, he said, it has been harder and slower than anticipated.

McCain cited the pace of the Marjah operations as one of the reasons for his opposition to the July 2011 withdrawal date. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, also criticized the deadline, telling Petraeus he thinks the Taliban believes the United States will "cut and run."

Petraeus said that "recent months in Afghanistan have seen tough fighting and tough casualties."

But "this was expected," he said. "The going inevitably gets tougher before it gets easier when a counterinsurgency operation tries to reverse insurgent momentum.

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue. Indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months. As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."

The general said one of his goals in Afghanistan is to help ensure the Afghan people know who "has been killing the vast majority" of innocent civilians in their country. "There's no love lost for the Taliban" among civilians, he said.

Petraeus hearkened back to his previous experience heading the U.S. military surge in Iraq. The terror group al Qaeda in Iraq was hurt by successful U.S. efforts to give them an "extremist" label, he asserted.

He urged members of Congress to pass an Afghanistan war supplemental funding bill now under consideration.

"Enabling further such progress ... and successfully implementing the president's strategy will require that our work in Afghanistan is fully resourced," he told committee members.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is ready to make a recommendation to Obama on a new commander to replace Petraeus at U.S. Central Command, a senior Pentagon official told CNN Tuesday. An announcement is expected shortly after Petraeus is confirmed by the Senate, the official said Tuesday.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military • Security Brief
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Steven Brian


    June 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. miguel

    The formula for leaving any U.S. occupied country is "time necessaru tp steal enough natural resources minus time required for stupid americans to realize they are doing the dirty work of the corporations once again." FIGURE IT OUT.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      Obama says " "We'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."
      So there you have it. The election promise to get us out of there in 6 months turned into a "free for all oil grab" forever.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      There is NO oil there. Major wars are seldom over resources – they are nearly always religious or ideological. WW1 was totally senseless, WW2 was over Hitler's master race madness, the Cold War was over communism, Vietnam was over communism, Korea was over communism – the list goes on. Oil doesn't come into this picture. The current fight is against Islamic extremism. Perhaps errors are being made in fighting it – Saudi Arabia should be taken apart (most of the 9/11 perpetrators were from Saudi Arabia) – but just because those terrorists and extremists are funded by oil and concentrated in oil rich areas doesn't change the religious nature of the struggle.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. mtw888

    Instead of hunting down Mr Bin Laden the Americans has diverted their resources to 'providing asssitance ' to Afgan Govt. If Americans has already lost track of their prime target what is the point keeping an huge ally army in Afgan?

    June 29, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • dt2005

      Do you really think that the war is over after bin laden dies or is captured? He is just a figure head at this point, a symbol. Our goal is to make the Afghan government strong and hopefully loyal to U.S. to fight off their own terrorists and take over the show...we can't be there forever obviously. But it will take time, so we gotta keep troops in place until the Afghan government army is ready to manage things on their own.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      You can bet we wll be there forever in some strength to protect our new pipeline however. Don't forget the real reason we even went there now.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    Just to clear up a falsehood...the 9/11 attacks were not planned in Afghanistan. They were conceived much earlier in CIA headquarters and implemented with Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney in full leadership control of the events. We thank Nicholas Rockefeller for his generous contributions for that fiasco meant to strip us of our rights. All in effort to get us all "chipped" as he himeself put it in his interview with Russo. Google the Rockefeller/Russo interview and discover the agenda.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sid

    Jim, It's already been established that the 9/11 attacks were not planned in the United States and in circles of people who actually "think", these stories fall squarely into the same category as stories about "death panels" and the current president not being an American Citizen. The only reason people like you get to say things like this is the internet. It's a good thing for you that Sarah Palen can see Russia from Alaska as I suspect the Russians are still going to try to take over the United States very very soon. Just Google "Red Dawn" and head for the hills.....

    June 30, 2010 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. soon justice in Palestine

    Osama Ben Laden is not in Afghanistan , so why our troops are they still there?
    If he goes to India we have to follow him there.

    The real criminals who started it all are mainly W. Bush and Bush father but previously presidents plaid a part of this mess..

    June 30, 2010 at 4:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Flip

    we should have "pulled out" sooner...that way Afganistan wouldn't have gotten pregnant LOL

    June 30, 2010 at 5:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. soon justice in Palestine

    This is the video that israel doesn't wants the world to see:


    June 30, 2010 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  9. blackgirlpolitics1991

    Announcing that he planned a pull out date was the presidents biggest mistake in this war. Now that 2011 is coming closer, it appears our officers on the ground are a lot more antsy about making the deadline. Even Mr. Obama seems to be changing his stance on what he said a year ago, now assuring us that the deadline doesn't mean no American presence in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for him both the left and the right are coming down on him hard, the right demanding that the deadline be uplifted and the left demanding that the deadline be made clear. In conclusion... you would have been a lot better off without any mention of a deadline. Hopefully Obama will realize quickly that you can never please both sides with a policy as big as this.

    July 3, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  10. evan Mark

    Please people learn about how horrible it was under the Taliban:
    You absolutely MUST see this.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |