WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Tuesday to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the next commander of U.S. and foreign forces in Afghanistan after the general told senators he would insist on "an unshakeable commitment to teamwork among all elements of the U.S. government."
The Obama administration is seeking Petraeus's quick confirmation in order to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned last week after he and his senior aides made comments to Rolling Stone magazine criticizing Vice President Joe Biden and other senior officials.
The committee vote clears the way for a vote by the full Senate.
In his opening statement to the committee, Petraeus praised McChrystal for his strategic accomplishments in Afghanistan over the past year. He did not directly address McChrystal's comments in the magazine article.
Senators from both parties praised Petraeus in their opening statements and indicated that he would be easily confirmed. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee, called Petraeus an "American hero" for his role in stabilizing the war in Iraq. Formerly the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Petraeus currently serves as commander of the U.S. Central Command
Petraeus emphasized the need to work more closely with high-ranking civilian members of the Obama administration in Afghanistan, with NATO and other allied leaders and with top Afghan officials. "We are all firmly united in seeking to forge unity of effort," the general said.
Petraeus said he would continue McChrystal's strategy of trying to avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan, a keystone of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy. But in a nod to U.S. troops who have complained that McChrystal had tied their hands in the war by making it more difficult to engage Taliban fighters, Petraeus said troops under his command would not shrink from a fight.
"Focusing on securing the people does not, however, mean that we don't go after the enemy," he said. "In fact, protecting the population inevitably requires killing, capturing, or turning the insurgents. Our forces have been doing that, and we will continue to do that.
"I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive," he added. "They should know that I will look very hard at this issue."
Senators pushed Petraeus to declare whether he backed Obama's policy to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011. Obama has said that the pace and degree of the withdrawal will depend on conditions in Afghanistan at that time.
"Not only did I say I supported it, I said I agreed with it," Petraeus replied. Referring to the July 2011 deadline, Petraeus said, "It was not just for domestic political purposes. It was also meant for audiences in Kabul, that we will not be there forever." He added, "But we will be there, presumably for quite some time."