Andrew Aylward / San Francisco Chronicle – 2010-07-10 17:39:48
WASHINGTON (June 30, 2010) — Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, joined other House members in calling for President Obama to provide Congress with “a clear commitment and plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan” before a vote expected later this week that would provide $58 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The call for a firm stance on a drawdown date in a letter to the president was echoed by the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday during Gen. David Petraeus’ confirmation hearing to become the top commander of US forces in Afghanistan.
Even though Petraeus left open the possibility of delaying Obama’s July 2011 plan to start withdrawing troops, he expressed confidence in the workability of the departure date.
“I’m convinced it was not just for domestic political purposes,” Petraeus said. “It was for audiences in Kabul, who, again, needed to be reminded that we won’t be there forever.”
The letter signed by Rep. Lee calls for Obama to set firm beginning and end dates for the removal of US troops. “The lack of clarity on when and how the US will end its military commitment to Afghanistan has created confusion amongst US service members and the public,” the statement said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Petraeus if it would be wise for Congress to withhold funding until a withdrawal plan is provided. Petraeus responded that this would contradict the current policy and that a troop drawdown will be based at least to some degree on conditions on the ground at the time.
“There will be an assessment at the end of this year after which undoubtedly we’ll make certain tweaks, refinements, perhaps some significant changes,” Petraeus told the Senate panel.
The four-star general also quoted Obama’s June 24 statement that July 2011 would be the “beginning of a process, not a date when the US heads for the exit,” a wording that worries Democrats who are counting on the president to end the war next year.
At the same time, Petraeus warned that the situation could get worse before it gets better.
“My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months,” Petraeus said. “As we take away the enemy’s safe havens and reduce the enemy’s freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back.”
Petraeus’ success in leading the 2007 troop surge in Iraq has made him the darling of Republicans while his closeness to Obama has given him favor among Democrats. However, he may become a foe of anti-war Democrats should he cede to intense Republican pressure to abandon a concrete withdrawal date.
Republicans have long contested that a deadline undermines the military’s goals by giving the Taliban confidence that they can reinstate themselves once US forces leave the country. Petraeus was careful during the hearing to balance the two divergent attitudes that have become the centerpieces of Obama’s Afghanistan policy: commitment and urgency.
Petraeus also said he would review restrictions on US air strikes that have reduced the number of civilian casualties but have been criticized by American troops who say it makes their job more dangerous. His statement is a firm break from the rules of engagement of his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired last week by President Obama.
“I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform,” Petraeus told the committee.
In another sign of a break from Gen. McChrystal, Petraeus promised a more cordial relationship with his civilian counterpart, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Petraeus said he and Eikenberry would meet with NATO allies in Brussels and arrive together in Kabul once he took command.
The Senate committee voted to approve Petraeus and referred his nomination to the full Senate, which is expected to vote on his confirmation today.
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
(C) San Francisco Chronicle 2010
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