Senate committee endorses Petraeus as new Afghan chief

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By Joseph Picard | June 30, 2010 10:00 AM EST

General David Petraeus, President Obama's emergency pick to replace General Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee after a hearing earlier today.

The general received an amiable round of questioning from the Senate panel, and is apparently on his way for a quick confirmation by the full Senate.

McChrystal last week resigned his post, at the President's request, after a magazine article became public in which McChrystal  and members of his staff made disparaging remarks about members of the administration.

Petraeus was the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq during the successful military surge under former president George W. Bush.

"We know we can achieve unity of effort in Afghanistan because we have done so before, in Iraq," Petraeus said.

The projected July 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which President Obama has announced, was cause for concern for several Senators.

Senator John McCain, R-AZ, after saying that he did not doubt President Obama's commitment to success in Afghanistan, added, "What we need to hear from the President, and what our friends and enemies in Afghanistan and the region need to hear, is that the withdrawal of our troops will be determined solely by conditions on the ground," and not by a pre-set date.

McCain said having such a withdrawal date announced undermines the war effort. Afghanis will not support us because they fear Taliban reprisals when we leave, McCain said.

"I was part of the process that helped to formulate the President's strategy on Afghanistan, and I support and agree with his policy," Petraeus said.

He explained that Obama never intended the July 2011 date to be written in stone.

"The President made clear that July 2011 marks the start of a process, not the date the U.S. heads for the exit and turns out the lights," Petraeus said.

"The pace of the drawdown of our forces in Afghanistan should, as the President has stated, be a responsible one, based on conditions on the ground beginning in July 2011, in order to ensure that Afghanistan can build the capacity to take full responsibility for its own security," Petraeus said.

He said it would be "a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the security tasks."

Petraeus said there are some areas of progress in Afghanistan, but that a tough fight remains, as he has every expectation that the Taliban will rigorously resist U.S. efforts. But the U.S. is not going to give up or slip away.

President Obama has stated that the U.S. will not tolerate Afghanistan again becoming a safe haven for terrorists, the general said.

"Our commitment to Afghanistan is an enduring one," he said. "Neither the Taliban nor our Afghani or Pakistani allies should forget that," Petraeus said, adding that U.S. forces will "go after the enemy."

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