Senate votes to bring U.S. military officials to testify on Afghanistan

The Senate on Thursday voted to bring U.S. military leaders to Capitol Hill for congressional testimony on the war in Afghanistan, but sidestepped a potential controversy by not setting a deadline.

Senators voted 60-39 for an amendment by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that requires Gens. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, plus Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to testify before the committee.

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But the amendment avoids a deadline of Nov. 15 that had been pushed by the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has argued forcefully for McChrystal and Petraeus to appear. Levin’s amendment added Gates and Mullen.

“The point is that we need to hear from the architects and the commanders,” McCain said. “We as members of Congress, a co-equal branch of government, also have a responsibility in this decision-making progress.”

An internal assessment of the war in Afghanistan was leaked last week, with media reports zeroing in on McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional troops — which McCain supports. Obama already sent 21,000 troops to Afghanistan in January but has been under increasing pressure to send more.

McCain’s effort failed, however, as senators voted first for the Levin amendment and then defeated McCain’s version by a vote of 40-59. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been battling health issues, attended the vote.

Levin said his amendment was superior to McCain’s because it gives President Barack Obama the same degree of deference that President George W. Bush enjoyed from Congress, because it is actually more expansive than McCain’s measure.

“We gave President Bush space, and did not try to bring his commanders from the field while a deliberative effort was going on,” Levin said. “Secondly, we want to hear from not just McChrystal and Petraeus. We want to hear from their commander and his commander. That chain of command was left out on McCain’s amendment."

Levin also said his amendment calls for the military leaders’ testimony to include a discussion about strategy in the U.S. war in Afghanistan — and may even happen more quickly than mid-November.

“I think this will be decided in a matter of weeks,” Levin said.