Petraeus confirmed as commander

Wed, Jun 30, 2010, 01:00

The US Senate voted today to confirm General David Petraeus as the new commander of the war in Afghanistan, pinning US hopes on a four-star army general who helped turn around the conflict in Iraq.

President Barack Obama tapped Gen Petraeus after last week firing the previous commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, for disparaging civilian leaders in a magazine article.

"I know General Petraeus will do everything in his power to help us succeed in Afghanistan," said Republican Senator John McCain, addressing the Senate floor. "This is not the time for debate over the strategy."

Mr McCain, along with many Republicans, has voiced strong disapproval of Mr Obama's July 2011 date to start a gradual withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Democrats have said the date is critical to show a sense of urgency after a long, costly war and to send a signal to Afghans that they need to ramp up their security forces for an eventual handover.

In a reminder of the fierce fight ahead, the Taliban launched a deadly raid on Wednesday against Nato's biggest air base in eastern Afghanistan, adding to a death toll that has already made June the bloodiest month of the war for foreign forces.

Soaring US and Nato casualties already have undercut public support for the war in the United States and Europe. Three close allies - Canada, the Netherlands and Poland - have announced plans to withdraw combat forces.

Appearing before the senate armed services committee, Gen Petraeus promised greater civilian-military unity of effort to counter what he called an “industrial strength insurgency”. He said he would reassess controversial rules of engagement that limit the use of force by US troops and aircraft in an attempt to protect civilians.

Critics say the rules put US units at unnecessary risk. Gen Petraeus told the committee that broader changes were possible depending on a White House review of war strategy in December.

One of the US military’s biggest stars, the general is credited with helping to turn the tide in Iraq. Mr Obama is counting on him to do the same with the unpopular and costly war in Afghanistan that was launched in 2001 after the September 11th attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda.

But Gen Petraeus cautioned against assuming that what worked in Iraq would work in Afghanistan, saying progress was slower than expected in the southern heartland of the Taliban insurgency and the task of training Afghan security forces remained a monumental challenge.