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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.

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Pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina to reconcile his views with statements from Vice President Joe Biden that troops will be coming home next summer, Petraeus was able to recount a meeting at which Mr. Biden said he supported the existing policy. The general then let drop he was scheduled to have dinner with the vice president on Tuesday evening.

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Petraeus similarly worked his personal contacts with Afghan President Hamid Karzai into the hearing, mentioning at several points a phone conversation with Mr. Karzai carried out in the car bringing Petraeus to the hearing.

“This is a test of wills,” said Petraeus. “The enemy must know we have the will to prevail.”

Recent months have seen tough fighting and rising casualties, and there is more fighting ahead, said the general. But he said that the Afghan army is making some progress

Some progress among Afghan forces

The number of allied trainers has increased, he said, meaning that the ratio of trainer to Afghan trainees has gone from 1 to 70, to 1 to 39. Some 85 percent of Afghan army units are now partnered with US or allied units in the field.

“Afghan forces are now in the lead in Kabul,” said Petraeus.

Senator Levin, however, noted that in a written response to committee questions Petraeus also said there are only about 7,200 Afghan army troops in Kandahar Province, a crucial area of the conflict.

Some US troops on the ground in Afghanistan have complained about the rules of engagement under General McChrystal. They felt these rules, designed to minimize Afghan civilian casualties, were too restrictive in regard to use of airpower and other support for units engaged in firefights.

Petraeus said he would review how the rules of engagement are being implemented throughout the force. He said it is possible some commanders are taking a “bureaucratic” approach when defining them.

“When [US troops] are in a tough spot, it is a moral imperative that we use all we have to get them out of it,” said Petraeus.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan