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. Laverne

    Maybe annoucing a date is also a strategy. You people give dumb people like Sarah Palin way too much credit and smart people no credit at all. Stop and think for a change!

    June 29, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  2. Patsy, Texas

    So, McCain (hero that he is) wants to ignore the survey (see other
    Ticker) that 58% of Americans agree with a withdrawal date. To
    quote another Republican, Joe Scarborough, "the sooner the better".
    AND, ignore the fact that Canada is withdrawing next year,
    the Netherlands are leaving in August, Poland is scaling back
    next year, and Britain is "rethinking" its role in Afghanistan. So there
    we are, close to standing alone, and he wants to stay as "conditions
    dictate". Well, conditions were perfect, at first, but noooo-Bush had to
    virtually abandon the mission, leave a few troops behind, and make an
    unprecented invasion into another Country that did not attack us, ie.
    Iraq. So, all of you know-it-all Republicans, never again!

    June 29, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Speaking of war......is Dick Cheney dead yet?

    June 29, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  4. PrettyAngel

    Enough is enough. It is time for our soldiers to come home. I would love to see all of the Republicans and Democrats at war for 9 years, then they would know how it feels for our soldiers that are suffering with PTSD. I hate war, what is it actually good for, absolutely nothing. We are not winning in Afghanistan and I do not believe that there will wver be peace in the Middle East, they have been fighting since the biblical days. BRING OUR TROOPS HOME. NO MORE WAR!!!!

    June 29, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  5. PrettyAngel

    I say as much money Congress hass spent on two wars , bailing out AIG, banks, car makers etc... how about bailing out all of the USA citizens, who have lost their jobs and credit is ruined due to the ruined economy; we could use a helping hand too.

    June 29, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  6. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Don't be played for stupid people, these Afghan people knew how to fight before we got there and they will continue to fight when we leave. So the thought of McCain or anyone suggesting they aren't ready and no timetable should be set, PLEASE READ THE HISTORY OF THESE PEOPLE.

    June 29, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  7. manhandler

    Are there no people with ANY intelligence in the Government and the Military? Even though I didn't vote for the man, I had hoped that Obama would figure out how preposterous this stupid war is and get us OUT. Instead I just heard him say AGAIN. the incredibly stupid statement that we were there to eliminate Afghanistan as a staging groung for terrorist attacks. HELLO? IS ANYBODY HOME? Did it ever occur to him that terrorist attacks can be planned from ANYWHERE in the world. The Rampant stupidity is astonishing.

    June 29, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  8. Dan

    Save American lives.
    Stop wasting tax dollars on Afghan drug lords.

    10 years of lost American lives is enough.
    The amount of money we have wasted in Afghanistan has already cost every taxpayer of $1000.

    June 29, 2010 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  9. Former US Army Officer, Kansas

    There was only just War to come out of the last Administration, that being Afganistan. It was set aside and forgotten about for almost 7 years. We are not going to have a secure Afganistan in July 2011, the Afganistan government is not going to be ready to provide for the goverance and security of Afganistan by July 2012, if we are going to finally finish what Bush started and finish it right, then our departure date is when the mission is done. Not a second sooner or a second later. It's time to decide whether we are going to do it, yes or no. If the answers no, then we don't need to waste anothe life of penney on a lost cause, if the answer is yes, then do it.

    But we do not need political gobly gook, we need objectives that can be seen and acheived using military force. Then we need to make certain that the necessary forces are made avaiable and do it. It's time to define under what conditions victory is acheived. Please dont tell me we have forgotten everything the we learned in Vietnam and are now once again nation building.

    The secret to Afganistan is not a secret, its found in every text book ever written on the nation. The secret to controlling Afganistan is not found in Karzai's government but in the regions of Afganistan controled by Tribal Chieftains and Warlords. Afganistan might be governed but if so it shall be a governing council not any central government defined by western standards. Failure to recognize this fact will bring about the same failures that have been felt by the British, Russians and every other nation that thought hey could impose their ways on this nation of Tribal regions.

    June 29, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  10. bill486

    This is just more proof that Eisenhower was right when he said:

    "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted."

    It's time to stop feeding the war machine....its hunger never ceases.

    June 29, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. eric_in_tx

    the funny thing is that most people don't understand that we are here because we didn't stay the FIRST TIME. If we had COMPLETED THE GULF WAR I OBJECTIVE OF KILLING HUSSEIN ALOT OF THESE PROBLEMS WOULD HAVE BEEN FIXED ALREADY! Funny that most folks on here blogging/complaining/chatting about timetables have NEVER WORN A MILITARY UNIFORM. You THINK you know something, but you know nothing. 90% of Generals are politicians. That is what they do for the most part. Some are politically correct and others are obective/military minded. The difference between McChrystal and Petraus is that Petraus is a politician. He will do what he is told. McChrystal saw that Washington was steering the pieces on the chessboard regardless of what was needed. When you contract out help, you take their advice if you're smart. Obama asked what was needed, McChrystal told him and Obama said that wouldn't do well with his liberal base. So he changed the plan for the good General. The war is over when the OBJECTIVE IS REACHED, not when the clock runs out. The enemy is so much more patient that Americans. If we say that on July 1, 2011 we will be out of the country, they will wait till Aug 1, 2011 and then attack. They have patience. Americans want microwaved war. Doesn't work that way. Get a clue.

    June 29, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. LacrosseMom(the real one)

    We are spending .....$6........BILLION.........EACH ..........MONTH..........fighting the Bush Wars!

    Can YOU imagine using $6 BILLION a month to pay down our deficit?

    Get the U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq NOW!

    June 29, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  13. Ikie

    I have a question for all those who want to be in Afgan until the war is won, " Does that include the time America is bankrupt funding the war?"

    If you think you will kill all terrorists in Afgan and in the World you are sick in the head. Winning the war means getting rid of all Extreme elements and that just not happening. As long as America lives, she will always have enemies.

    Finally, the Afgan Government is corrupt, how do you propose getting that issue rectified? Its like pouring water into a tin with holes, the more you pour, the more it escapes. Tell me, how to you win in that situation?

    June 29, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  14. gt

    thats way to long ,,, get our troops home today,,, no more wasted lives,,,no more wounded troops.... just leave now ....

    June 29, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  15. BB

    When is CNN finally going to get it???
    He's done, it's over, retire!!! Go away already!!!
    This creep has done much more harm to this country than he's done good. He's horrible.

    June 29, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  16. Chuck T

    We need to get out NOW, period.

    Time means nothing. What will happen when we leave will happen, regardless if it is a year or eighty years. The only thing that will change will be the amount of blood and treasure we spend until we are completely gone.

    June 29, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  17. Sandra, ATL

    I used to have respect for John McCain, but after the last two years that is totally gone out the window. Either he is just losing his mind entirely or has become the thing he has always disdained(publicly anyway). One who bows to the political winds. His new found 'ultra conservative' credentials and his temper tantrums(not new) make me want to absolutely throw up.

    June 29, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. ybs

    Prof. Obama & Gen. Petraeus decide whether to extend the deadline. You [McCain] shut up!

    You are a real pain, McCain!

    June 29, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. when

    When is the goverment going to allow all resources to help with skimming. These little party boats pulling boom is a joke. (I live on the gulf coast) I see it with my own eyes. The local media have planes showing where there are hardly any large skimmers further out. Where are they? There are shrimp boats sitting in port in Bayou la Batre waiting to help. Why is the goverment taking so long in allowing other countries to help too.

    The Whale (specialized skimmer that can skim off 20 million gal a DAY) still sitting in port because it has yet to be approved.


    The government has done just as much damage because of red tape and stopping progress.

    No one will answer why it is taking so long.....

    June 29, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  20. Ron in California.

    People what do you know about War? Ever been in One? Ever served in the Armed Forces? I think we let the General set the stratregy and win this thing. For those who are old enough to remember Viet nam. We lost because the polticians ran the war. Oh and Korea as well. The mere fact that tCommander in Chief Obama has to get Congressional approval to appoint a General is absurd. Bush at least listened to his experienced Generals.

    June 29, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. kyle from ohio

    John and we would have already attacked Iran if you won the Pres. election, that much is clear. more Jobs the military style. Go win your re-election, if you can. I wished they actually had a better canidate running against you this year.

    June 29, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  22. js....santee

    McCain acts like Obama hasn't thought about anything. Why would he not consider what is going on "on the ground"....it's the only thing that does matter. It defines any war.

    June 29, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. sifto

    I can't believe the ungrateful masses that belittle McCain (liberals). He suffered and fought for you and you people spit on him-typical of "entitled " people, The reason you are able to mouth off is because of him and others who fought for your fredom of speech. If it was up to Obama–none of you would be able to criticize government....

    June 29, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |

    I hate the fact we've been in there for sooooooo loooooong.......
    Basically this war was ignored for 7 years.......Obama has rightly reengaged this war, like he said he would do on the campaign trail, and so far so good........in comparison to other wars including Iraq, very few American lives have been lost (1000 thus far) not to cheapen any blood spilled.....but let's be clear; Vietnam killed 80,000 US soldiers.......80k!!!!!!!! Vietnam was not full of potential terrorist........Afghanistan is! We as Americans need to give it a chance to let this war wage for a few longer......This is basically the restart of this war.
    I hate war, but let's not forget that America went crazy over the Iraq war b/c it was pretty much base less. We went to Iraq on a pre-emptive war........We actually do know why we're in Afghanistan.

    June 29, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  25. Greg Pottstown PA

    Fair is Fair June 29th, 2010 12:36 pm ET

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

    just like pelosi did with Iraq funding. Get a clue.

    BTW. republicans have not filibustered any war funding bill. You just sound dumb when everything you say is completely untrue and unsupportable.

    June 29, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
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