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General Petraeus: US troops to remain in Afghanistan for years

General Petraeus told senators at his confirmation hearing that he supports President Obama's Afghanistan strategy, including its exit plan. But he also said US forces would remain in the country for the foreseeable future.

By Staff writer / June 29, 2010

General Petraeus appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday. He told Senators that he supports President Obama’s Afghan strategy, including its exit plan. His confirmation as commander of allied forces in Afghanistan seems assured.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters



Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday appeared to adroitly navigate around the potential pitfalls of his nomination hearing to be commander of allied forces in the Afghanistan war. In particular, General Petraeus vowed to senators that he supports President Obama’s Afghan strategy, including its exit plan, while simultaneously reassuring them that the US commitment to the fight there “is an enduring one.”

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Petraeus repeated that the July 2011 deadline for the beginning of troop withdrawals is flexible and that any such drawdown will occur only if it is warranted by conditions on the ground. The formulation seemed to satisfy most, though not all, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The chairman of the panel, Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, noted that it is foreordained that Petraeus will win confirmation to his new post.

“I’m allowed to assume you will be confirmed. You’re not, but I am,” Senator Levin told Petraeus at one point, drawing laughter from his fellow lawmakers.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

That the hearing was occurring at all reflects extraordinary circumstances. Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s derogatory comments about civilian officials to Rolling Stone led to his resignation last week. Then Petraeus agreed to accept the position, though technically it is a demotion from his current job as commander of US Central Command, which covers all of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Petraeus is a popular figure on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers credit him with a major role in turning around the Iraq conflict. Many are looking to him to perform a similar miracle in Afghanistan, where the fight against the Taliban has proved long and hard.

Petraeus 'can win wars'

“General Petraeus has proved he can win wars,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the panel’s ranking Republican.

Petraeus told senators that next July marks the beginning of a process under which withdrawals will be considered, and not a date at which the US will race for the exits. He implied that substantial US forces would remain in the country for the foreseeable future.

“It will be a number of years before the Afghans can truly handle their security on their own,” Petraeus told senators.