McCain Says Obama Asks Petraeus to Support Unwinnable Afghanistan Strategy

Senator John McCain said President Barack Obama’s plan to begin a drawdown in July 2011 of U.S. forces in Afghanistan puts General David Petraeus in “an almost untenable position.”

Petraeus, who Obama last week named to take command of those forces, is being asked to support “a strategy that we know can’t win,” McCain, of Arizona, said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “General Petraeus is put in an almost untenable position.”

The Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing June 29 on Petraeus’s appointment. Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who supports it, said he hopes the committee will vote that same day to forward the nomination to the full Senate.

The U.S. plans to reassess its strategy in December and train enough Afghan soldiers and police to allow a drawdown to begin in July 2011. That pullout date has drawn criticism from Republicans, including McCain and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Graham, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said the administration must “clarify” its plans for July 2011.

“If it is a goal, where we will all try to start transferring power over to the Afghans, I’m ok with that,” he said. “If it’s a date where people are going to begin to leave no matter what, a predetermined withdrawal date, that in my mind will doom the operation.”

Rolling Stone

Petraeus, who commands U.S. forces in the Middle East and central Afghanistan, will lead a force of 142,000 U.S. and allied troops who are in the midst of a possibly decisive offensive to push the Taliban out of their heartland of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

He will replace General Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama dismissed for remarks disparaging administration officials that were published last week in Rolling Stone magazine.

The U.S. is completing the deployment of 30,000 additional troops Obama authorized in December in an effort to halt the Taliban resurgence that has increased deaths of U.S. and allied soldiers to the fastest pace in the war, now nine years old and the longest in U.S. history.

With a four-month-old offensive in the southern Helmand town of Marjah stalled, the U.S. has delayed what it described as a decisive drive in the neighboring Taliban heartland of Kandahar.

“Obvious the effort in Marjah did not achieve” success, and “the offensive in Kandahar has been delayed,” McCain said. This “argues against setting a date certain” for drawing down U.S. forces.

“I’m against a timetable,” McCain said. It leaves “our troops on the ground in some ways confused about what the long- term strategy will be” and the Taliban insurgents “think we’re going to leave.”

“A fundamental of warfare is: You tell the enemy when you’re leaving, they will wait,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bill Schmick in Washington at wschmick@bloomberg.net

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