June 29th, 2010
11:48 AM ET
13 years ago

Bickering over Afghan troop timetable marks Petraeus hearing

(CNN) - 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.

Filed under: Afghanistan • David Petraeus • President Obama
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Rick McDaniel

    Don't bicker.......just state the simple fact.......be done in Afghanistan, in 2011, or have the war end by cutting off all war funds.

    June 29, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  2. Anonymous

    Congress is not made up of Generals. Congress is not over there fighting.
    Everyone says they are concerned for our troops, how about letting the General get there and assess the situation instaed of pretending to know what you're talking about Congress?
    I do not approve of war, but let's be fair to those involved in ti.

    June 29, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. BeverlyNC

    This is the perfect time to change strategies and make plans to get out of Afghanistan. The terrorists are not there. They are in Pakistan. We are wasting lives of our soldiers, money we need domestically, and focus we need on domestic issues.

    Continuing to give the military what they ask for has the same results as the children's book "If you Give a Mouse a Cookie...".

    End the fraudulent Bush wars!

    June 29, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. David

    McCain is a douche, Obama has always said that conditions on the ground would be a factor, you need to have a target especially in Afghanistan where you risk the potential of being stuck for decades and even then have no clear win. Does the GOP really need to try to make political hay out of everything, it is time to put the people first rather than trying to score political points.

    June 29, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    Let's play the same game the GOPers/conservative "say anything" critics of Obama did when he decided to spend time obtaining research and advice from the Joint Chiefs, etc., instead of simply giving McChrystal 40K more troops simply because he said he wanted them:

    Patraeus – 30+ years of distinguished service, expertise and 4 stars.

    McCain – Crashed 2 planes and was shot down in a 3rd, then became a POW for 5 or so years.

    Not to downplay the sacrifice of being a POW, but let's get real...who really knows what he's talking about here? McPampers, who told fellow residents at the Hanoi Hilton that Nixon would win the war, or Patraeus? McPampers can be translated as follows: "Please believe me and be afraid and let that fear make you angry so you can channel it at That One."

    June 29, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  6. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    It's been proven in Iraq that timetables are effective. It let's the foreign government know they bettter get their act together because we are not going to be here forever.

    June 29, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  7. Ancient Texan

    Fighting a war with a timetable? Total insanity! The enemy simply waits until you get tired or intimidated, or until you withdraw and then takes over the disputed area. I suppose you could declare yourself the winner as you leave, but the enemy is the winner once you are out of sight. President Bush refused to name a pullout date in Iraq for this very good reason. But we actually wanted to win that war.

    June 29, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Mason

    When has letting your enemy know what your plans are ever a good idea. Also based on Obama's decision making ability and record thus far it would be fair to say its a political decision and most given the last 18 months a poor one.

    June 29, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    It's like that commercial where the girl comes running into the kitchen and says she got into one of the BEST school's in the country and then they rewind and do what dad heard...that she got into one of the most EXPENSIVE schools in the country:

    What Patraeus said: "Enabling further such progress ... and successfully implementing the president's strategy will require that our work in Afghanistan is fully resourced."

    What the GOPers heard: "Filibuster all legislation funding this effort so you can hamstring the operation and then blame Obama for its failure."

    June 29, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. Dano

    I think a vast majority of Americans wonder if "conditions on the ground" will EVER be acceptable for McCain and many in the GOP to withdraw our troops. It was an ill fated mission to begin with. We as Americans love (mostly) our democratic system of government and we tend to think that every other nation in the world should adopt it, but most nations in the Middle East have never experienced democracy. The most brutal strongman usually runs the show until someone kills him and takes over. I think if we stay until Afghanistan is a functioning democracy that most of us will die of old age before it is achieved. All the Western democracies can hope to do is contain Muslim extremism to the Middle East until an enlightened person takes charge or enough citizens band together to overthrow the dictators and demand change – unless of course we want to kill everyone there and start over.

    June 29, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  11. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Is Carl Levin the stupidest senator (I know it is hard to beat the rest of the Democratic Leadership when you consider that it includes Schumer, Leahy and Boxer) but does it not make sense that when you tell the enemy when you will be gone, like he does, they will just wait you out? Democrats are going to "Vietnamize" this war, just like they did the other one.

    June 29, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  12. tony

    We are leaving Iraq because it was a war that should never have been started. If we can't leave a country after the surge "worked" in Iraq, whatever that means for Republicans, the surge did not "succeed." All it did was that it saved Bush from a humiliating retreat. We are leaving Iraq anyway. Does that mean we lost whatever we "achieved" in Iraq?

    June 29, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  13. Pam

    Senator McCain must have forgotten to take his meds this morning! This is a hearing to confirm Patraeus, not to decide the timeline to withdraw the troops!
    No wonder nothing ever gets done in Congress!

    June 29, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  14. PalmReader

    It is time for John McCain to retire - or be voted out of office. He is more often than not confused and displays an angry, very bitter attitude of spewing division and antipathy in much of what he now says.

    Truth be told - politically - McCain has recently done more harm than good to America.

    June 29, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  15. sonny chapman

    "More time". Nine years is not enough. How about ninety? Democracies,even those with mercenary armies, do not fight never ending wars. Are we still a Democracy in America ? Or are we all "subjects" of a Worldwide Corporate Empire whose "colonies" need to be defended by the U.S. Military ? Can anyone say OIL/IRAQ ?

    June 29, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  16. Four and The Door

    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."
    Interesting strategy. Does it occur to Senator Levin that this may have more of an affect giving the enemy patience than the intended affect fof giving an ally incentive? Does he care more about success against political pressures than success in the Afghanistan effort? It just seems that the only thing you get with a strategy other than," fight to win" is frustration.

    June 29, 2010 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  17. Linda

    Old man McCain – go home!

    June 29, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. Marty, FL

    Bickering and McCain sadly seem redundant these days.

    The majority of Americans support President Obama's goal to create an urgent sense of cooperation with the Afghan people for taking control of their own country. General Petraeus also supports the mission.

    June 29, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. Fair is Fair

    What the GOPers heard: "Filibuster all legislation funding this effort so you can hamstring the operation and then blame Obama for its failure."

    Wrong. I, and a lot of others, liberal, conservative, and centrist, heard Obama basically tossing his timetable of withdrawl out the window. While that in of itself is not a necessarily bad thing, he's just going to have to find a way to spin it in such a way as to placate his base.

    June 29, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  20. Ken in NC

    While I am inclined to believe we should get out of there, I do not like the idea of letting the enemy know the date we will leave, however, on the other hand, it makes no difference if the enemy knows when we are leaving because we ARE going to leave. There is nothing for us to gain and nation building was not the objective for going over there in the first place. I do feel we should leave behind a fighting force to protect the Afghan people and since Senator McCain is so interested in fighting a war, I think he should be the protection force we leave behind. That way this old man can retire from the Senate and spend the rest of his pitiful existance fighting the enemy and in his mind the enemy is anyone that doesn't agree with him.

    June 29, 2010 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  21. Rush Limbaugh marries ambulance chaser,and were still laughing

    Petraeus should go next,he didnt do a thing,the billions of dollars spent to quiet the radicals is what worked,not his policies.

    June 29, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. jaybally

    McCain, what does He know about Wars? He was a P.O.W. @ the Hanoi Hilton for SIX YRS.; gave Up Flag and Colors in lieu of his Skin. Now professes to be an expert. McCain, You were rejected by the American Voters, two years ago, isn't time for You to go to Pasture with G.W, and Tricky Dicky, Cheney that Is, ??

    June 29, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  23. Obama's Vietnam

    President Obama is misleading the american people. He knows full well that the Afghans are not close to being ready to take over their own defense. Watch for this timetable to be missed by about 5 years

    June 29, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  24. independent

    Let the Senate GOP sponsor a Sense of the Senate motion stating that they believe we should stay in Afghanistan longer. Vote on it before November.

    June 29, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  25. The Other Micheal in Houston

    We will never win that war, the British could not, the Russians could not and we sure as hell will not. Everytime we drop a guided missle to take out one or two people and end up killing a bunch of cilvilians, we great another 100 Taliban fighters. Cut our losses and pull out while we still can.

    June 29, 2010 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
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