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Petraeus confirmed as new U.S. Afghan commander

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Senate unanimously confirms Petraeus
  • Gen. Petraeus confirmed as top U.S. Afghan commander
  • Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal
  • Sharp division persists over July 2011 withdrawal date
  • Petraeus has warned that fighting in Afghanistan will get tougher

Washington (CNN) -- The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the new top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan -- an unusual display of bipartisan unity in the politically divisive conflict.

Petraeus was tapped by President Barack Obama to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was relieved of his duties last week after the general and his staff were quoted in a Rolling Stone magazine article criticizing and mocking key administration officials.

The brief debate over Petraeus' nomination focused largely on Obama's plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Key Democrats insisted the date is necessary to force the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to assume more responsibility in the war against Islamic extremists. Republicans contended the date has emboldened the enemy and dissuaded potential allies from fighting alongside U.S. and other coalition forces.

Petraeus told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday in his confirmation hearing that he supports the drawdown date, but also insisted it should be "based on conditions on the ground." He said the U.S. military and insurgents are in "a test of wills."

Petraeus said he views the date "most importantly as the message of urgency to accompany the message of enormous (increased U.S.) commitment."

Obama announced in December a commitment of an additional 30,000 U.S. forces, a tripling of the number of U.S. civilians in Afghanistan, and funding for another 100,000 Afghan security personnel.

During his hearing, Petraeus pointed to Obama's recent reminder that "July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights." He quoted Obama as saying, "We'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."

"Moreover, as President Karzai has recognized, and as a number of allied leaders noted at the recent G-20 summit, it is going to be a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the security tasks in Afghanistan on their own," he said.

Petraeus also repeated a pledge to review strict rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties. The rules have been criticized by some observers as increasing the level of risk to U.S. soldiers.

I am "keenly aware of concerns by some of our troops on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive," Petraeus said. "They should know that I will look very hard at this issue."

Petraeus said that "recent months in Afghanistan have seen tough fighting and tough casualties." But "this was expected," he asserted. "The going inevitably gets tougher before it gets easier when a counterinsurgency operation tries to reverse insurgent momentum."

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue," he warned. "Indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months. As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."