Petraeus supports July 2011 deadline

Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday reiterated his support for President Barack Obama’s plan to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

The general, the president’s new choice to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, made his remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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The panel, on a voice vote, agreed to favorably report Petraeus’s nomination to the full Senate. Petraeus is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as early as Wednesday, according to a Senate leadership aide.

Petraeus said the pace of the U.S. drawdown and the transition to Afghan responsibility will be based on conditions on the ground. July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process rather than “the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights,” Petraeus assured committee members.

He also warned that the United States will need to provide assistance to Afghanistan “for a long time to come,” as it will be several years before the Afghan military and police will be able to secure the country by themselves. Petraeus noted that, by and large, Afghans are good fighters.

The general has been consistent in his support for the July 2011 timeline.

When testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago, Petraeus faced some intense grilling, particularly regarding the withdrawal date.

At the time, Petraeus, who testified as the head of Central Command, emphasized that Obama sought to convey two messages with the July 2011 timeline: one of an “enormous additional commitment” of troops and other resources and one “for urgency.”

Petraeus created suspense when he paused for what seemed a fairly long time after panel Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked him whether his statement of continued support for the withdrawal date represented his best “personal” and “professional judgment.”

“In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines,” Petraeus eventually hedged. “There was a nuance to what the president said that was very important, that did not imply a race for the exits.”

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been divided about the July 2011 date. Democrats strongly back the president’s strategy and see the date as necessary for a successful transition in Afghanistan but also for keeping the increasingly wary Democratic base in support of the war efforts.

Meanwhile, Republicans have called the withdrawal date arbitrary and have pressed Petraeus on his support of it. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, who recently called the July date a political decision, on Tuesday called that date “harmful.”

Also on Tuesday, Petraeus urged Congress to pass a war emergency funding bill that has been stalled in the House.

In order to enable progress in Afghanistan and implement the administration’s strategy in that country, it “will require that our work in Afghanistan is fully resourced,” Petraeus said.

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“It is essential for the conduct of this mission ... that the supplemental funding measure now before Congress be passed,” Petraeus said.

House leadership indicated that lawmakers in the lower chamber will consider the war funding bill this week.

This story was originally posted at 11:54 and updated at 2:59 p.m.and 7:35.