Afghanistan war: Top Senate Democrat says support could weaken

Afghanistan war will be run by Gen. David Petraeus, but Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said Monday congressional support could weaken if a planned operation in Kandahar doesn't go well.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Afghanistan war support could be starting to fray, according to Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, seen here during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 28.

President Barack Obama's pick to command the Afghan war should win easy Senate confirmation but support among Democrats for the nine-year-old conflict is starting to fray, a key Obama ally in the Senate warned on Monday.

Senator Carl Levin, speaking to journalists ahead of General David Petraeus' confirmation hearing on Tuesday, said success securing the Taliban's birthplace of Kandahar would be crucial to maintaining support for the unpopular war.

"I don't see any problem with (Petraeus') confirmation at all," said Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Petraeus will testify. "He did very well in Iraq and I am hopeful that he will be able to do the same thing in Afghanistan."

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

Obama named Petraeus to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan after firing General Stanley McChrystal last week over disparaging remarks about the president and his top advisers, in the biggest military shake-up of his presidency.

The change in command comes at a very sensitive moment in the Afghan war, as doubts grow over Obama's war strategy in the face of soaring casualties and rising costs.

Summarizing political sentiments about the conflict, Levin said: "I think on the Republican side, there's kind of solid support."

"On the Democratic side, there's I would say solid support but there's also the beginnings of some fraying of that support -- and that's true in the base, as well as in the Congress," he said.


Perceptions of a struggling U.S. campaign have been fueled by a stronger-than-expected Taliban resistance in the southern district of Marjah -- meant to be a showcase of U.S. strategy -- and a slower start to a long-awaited offensive in Kandahar.

Levin said he would press Petraeus on Tuesday about his concerns that fewer Afghan troops would take part in the Kandahar campaign than U.S. and NATO forces.

Giving the operation an Afghan face could be crucial to its acceptance among locals wary of foreign troops, he said."I'm going to press (Petraeus) on whether he agrees they should ... be in the lead on operations and should have greater numbers in Kandahar," Levin said.

Citing projections, Levin said just 8,500 Afghan forces would be operating alongside 11,850 U.S. and NATO forces by October. He said Afghans should be in the lead.

The stakes are high within Obama's Democratic party, Levin said."A lot will depend on this fall, in Kandahar. So I think that (Kandahar), more than anything else, will have the short-term impact on the American public's mood," he said.

Levin cautioned that Petraeus would face tough questions from opposition Republicans critical of Obama's plan to start withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011.

Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, has criticized the timeline and said it sent a signal to Afghans that the United States and its allies were preparing to wrap up the war.

"In wars you declare when you're leaving after you've succeeded," McCain told a Sunday morning television program.

Levin said the July 2011 date was crucial to Americans wary of making an open-ended commitment to the Afghan conflict.

"That date being set I think was critically important in terms of maintaining support of the American people (for) a war that has gone on so long," Levin said.


IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

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