By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 29, 2010 - Senators questioned Army Gen. David H. Petraeus repeatedly on his understanding of the July 2011 target date to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
President Obama has nominated Petraeus – the commander of U.S. Central Command – to be commander of U.S. and NATO forces. The committee passed its recommendation for confirmation to the full Senate after the hearing. The general's nomination for the NATO post must go through NATO channels.
When President Barack Obama laid out the new strategy in Afghanistan during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy in December, he said that he would add 30,000 American troops to the mix, but that U.S. forces would begin returning to the United States in July 2011 if conditions on the ground allow. Petraeus told the senators that he supported and agrees with the president's strategy.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan would "begin a process in July 2011 under which tasks are transferred to Afghan security forces and government officials and a 'responsible drawdown' of the surge forces begins, pace to be determined by conditions," he said.
American forces in Afghanistan are relentlessly pursuing the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies, and commanders and political leaders must consider conditions on the ground before a drawdown begins, the general said.
Still, he added, the deadline does make sense.
"On the one hand, productivity experts say that there's no greater productivity tool than a deadline," Petraeus said. "The message of urgency that the deadline conveyed ... was not just for domestic political purposes. It was for audiences in [the Afghan capital of] Kabul, who ... needed to be reminded that we won't be there forever. But we will be there, and presumably for quite some time."
The deadline tells the Afghans that they need to move forward smartly on policies and procedures to effect change, Petraeus said. "I think it did actually galvanize some degree of action," he told the committee. "There may have been some message for some of us in uniform that we needed to get on with it. The truth is that early on in the process, we were looking at a more deliberate campaign. We compressed that, getting the troops on the ground much more rapidly than was originally even thought possible." But a deadline also can give enemies the impression they simply can wait it out, the general noted.
"You have to make sure that the enemy does not interpret that as that moment whereas it was said the United States is heading for the exits, looking for the light switch to turn it off because we're out of here, because that is not accurate, at least not in my perception," Petraeus said.