Levin to grill Petraeus on role of Afghan army

The Senate will likely confirm Gen. David Petraeus quickly as the top commander in Afghanistan, but the Army general will first be grilled by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel’s chairman, said on Monday he plans to press Petraeus on whether the Afghan army should lead more military operations, particularly in the Kandahar region in the short term.

Levin said the number of Afghan security forces is “disappointing” in Kandahar, where U.S. and NATO forces are preparing for another offensive.

Having the Afghans in a leading military role there is of “principal importance,” Levin said at a breakfast with defense reporters.

Afghan leadership is critical to success, because “the view of us in Afghanistan is very mixed,” he added.

Another “extremely important” issue is putting Petraeus on record in support of Obama’s strategy in the region — including the July 2011 date when U. S. forces would start withdrawing.

Republicans have challenged that date, calling it “arbitrary.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Levin’s GOP counterpart on the committee, blasted Obama’s goal to begin withdrawal next summer, saying he made a “political decision” rather than one based on military strategy.

Obama nominated Petraeus to take over operations in Afghanistan after he accepted the resignation of the previous commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after he and his staff made incendiary comments to Rolling Stone magazine. Petraeus’s confirmation hearing is Tuesday.