Ambiguity over Afghanistan Deadline to be Key Question in Petraeus Confirmation

Senate Armed Services Committee member, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a press conference, June 23, 2010.

From Senator John McCain:  "The concern that we have is, and the issue that will be raised in General [David] Petraeus‘ confirmation hearings is, exactly what is meant by ‘withdrawal in the middle of 2011,’ whether that is ‘etched in stone’ as the President’s spokesperson … stated or whether it will be conditions based. Obviously, we feel strongly it needs to be condition based because if you tell the enemy when you are leaving, then obviously it has an adverse effect on your ability to succeed.  So that is a major concern and there’s a great deal of ambiguity about that issue.  I’m convinced that we can succeed in Afghanistan with the leadership and the talent of the young men and women who are serving, but we have to send the message that we will do whatever is necessary in order to achieve success. … The withdrawal of U.S. troops must be based on conditions at the time, not on an arbitrary date.”

From Senator Carl Levin:  "He [Gen. David Petraeus] also agrees with both key parts of that strategy: first, that additional troops be surged into Afghanistan by the end of the summer, and, second, that there be reductions in our troops levels in Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 as the essential way of getting the Afghans to focus on the need to transition to them the responsibility for their own security.

“General Petraeus made clear last week that he agrees with that policy and that what will be conditions-based is not whether reductions begin in July 2011, but the pace of those reductions."

From Jonathan Alter, Newsweek:  As they walked along the portico toward the Oval Office, [Vice President Joe] Biden asked if the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal in 2011 was a direct presidential order that couldn’t be countermanded by the military. [President Barack] Obama said yes. …

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said. …

At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. “In July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it,” Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, “Bet. On. It.”

From Fox NewsChris Wallace: So if Vice President Biden is telling the reporter — and there’s been no statement by the White House that he didn’t say it — there are going to be a whole lot of people moving out next July, you’re saying that’s not been decided?

Robert Gates: That absolutely has not been decided.

From Bridget Johnson, the Hill:  Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that the White House needed to clarify its July 2011 Afghanistan withdrawal deadline in order for Gen. David Petraeus to get the job there done.

"When it comes to deadlines, we need to take that off his back," Graham said on "Fox News Sunday," adding that if the Obama administration was intent on withdrawing troops by that date no matter what, "if that’s the policy it will doom this operation."  (photo: Getty)

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