Senate panel backs Petraeus confirmation

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post / June 30, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee voted yesterday to confirm General David Petraeus as the next commander of US and foreign forces in Afghanistan after the general told senators he would insist on “an unshakable commitment to teamwork among all elements of the US government.’’

The Obama administration is seeking Petraeus’s quick confirmation to replace General Stanley A. McChrystal, who resigned last week after he and his senior aides made comments to Rolling Stone magazine criticizing Vice President Joe Biden and other senior officials.

The committee vote clears the way for a vote by the full Senate.

In his opening statement to the committee, Petraeus praised McChrystal for his strategic accomplishments in Afghanistan over the past year. He did not directly address McChrystal’s comments in the magazine article; the White House later said McChrystal will retain his four-star rank when he retires from the military.

Senators from both parties praised Petraeus in their opening statements and indicated that he would be easily confirmed. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the committee, called Petraeus an “American hero’’ for his role in stabilizing the war in Iraq. Formerly the top US commander in Iraq, Petraeus now serves as commander of the US Central Command.

But senators also made clear they would use the confirmation hearing to debate the Obama administration’s Afghan war policy, including the president’s stated commitment to begin withdrawing at least some US troops by July 2011.

Petraeus emphasized the need to work more closely with high-ranking civilian members of the Obama administration in Afghanistan, with NATO and other allied leaders, and with top Afghan officials. “We are all firmly united in seeking to forge unity of effort,’’ the general said.

Petraeus said he would continue McChrystal’s strategy of trying to avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan, a keystone of the US military’s counterinsurgency strategy. But in a nod to troops who have complained that McChrystal had tied their hands by making it more difficult to engage the Taliban, Petraeus said troops under his command would not shrink from a fight.