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Top Republican wants Petraeus to testify on Afghanistan progress

From Charley Keyes, CNN

Washington (CNN) -- On the eve of the latest White House Afganistan update, the incoming head of the House Armed Services Committee said he wants to hear directly from the commander, Gen. David Petraeus, to determine what progress has been made.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, who next month will take over as chairman of the defense committee, said Wednesday he will ask Petraeus to testify.

"I want to have General Petraeus come and report to us on what's happening over there. I think that we will find he has made some pretty good progress," McKeon said in a roundtable with journalists.

McKeon says one reason he wants to hear directly from Petraeus is because of continuing concerns over whether Pakistan may be limiting American successes by not clamping down more on insurgents crossing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"From what I've seen Pakistan has been working more with us. I think we have been very effective in making inroads against the Taliban along the border," McKeon said. "Are they helping us as much as they can? Probably not."

The Pentagon says it always is "responsive" to congressional requests, and stands ready to keep committees informed. When Petraeus testified in 2007 about the surge in Iraq it was a national event, especially since it came the year before a presidential election, as might his next appearance also.

The incoming chairman also said he plans to go to Afghanistan, and probably Pakistan, himself in the next few months, looking for what he called "a seat of the pants view of what's really going on."

McKeon praised the Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, for voicing strong objections to changing the present policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Amos said Tuesday gay Marines in an intense firefight could be a deadly "distraction."

"I don't want to have any Marines I'm visiting at Bethesda [Naval Hospital] with no legs as a result of any type of distraction. So that's where I come down on this," Amos told reporters at the Pentagon.

"The easy thing for him to do in this town, in this environment, in this climate would be to say 'we're Marines, we'll do it, whatever you tell us to do we'll do it," McKeon said when asked if Amos had gone to far in his objections to the policy change endorsed by President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "I applaud him for his courage to speak up. And if I were a Marine out there on the front I would sure feel good about my commander." McKeon said.

McKeon was sharply critical about the last-ditch effort to have a so-called stand-alone bill on changing the military's policy barring gay men and lesbians from serving openly. Although he would not give his personal views on gays and lesbians in the armed forces, he voted against the House bill to repeal the law.

"I think that to do this at last gasp of Congress that has basically been voted out in a lame duck session is an affront to the military, it is an affront to the country that just voted on November 2 for a different way of doing things," McKeon said.