Senate confirms Gen. Petraeus as new Afghan war commander

With Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, Gen. David Petraeus would move from overseeing all U.S. forces in the Middle East to running operations in Afghanistan.
By Karen DeYoung, Craig Whitlock and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010; 2:26 PM

Gen. David H. Petraeus was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate Wednesday as the new Afghan war commander, replacing Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal after his ouster over controversial remarks in a Rolling Stone magazine article.

The 99-0 Senate vote followed a confirmation hearing Tuesday in which members of the Senate Armed Services Committee praised Petraeus's leadership of the war in Iraq and lauded him as the nation's premier warrior-diplomat.

President Obama released a statement expressing gratitude for the swift confirmation. "General Petraeus is a pivotal part of our effort to succeed in Afghanistan - and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda -- and he has my full confidence," the president said.

Petraeus told the committee members that the Afghan war, which he said is being waged against "an industrial-strength insurgency," is likely to get worse before it gets better.

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue," Petraeus said. "Indeed, it may get more intense."

Petraeus said he would adhere to McChrystal's strategy of trying to avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan, a keystone of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency approach. But in a nod to U.S. troops who have complained that McChrystal tied their hands by limiting tactics, Petraeus said he would "look very hard" at how directives issued by the former commander were being implemented.

"I will continue the emphasis on reducing the loss of innocent civilian life to an absolute minimum in the course of military operations," Petraeus said, adding that the rules of engagement for U.S. troops are "fairly standard."

A separate "tactical directive," he said, was designed to govern the use of air-launched weapons "because, of course, if you drop a bomb on a house, if you're not sure who's in it, you can kill a lot of innocent civilians in a hurry."

The general said that it is imperative that the directives are implemented uniformly throughout the force, and that "when our troops and our Afghan partners are in a tough spot . . . it's a moral imperative that we use everything we have to ensure that they get out."

In addition to discussing his strategy, Petraeus took care, both inside and outside the hearing room, to show how he would try to avoid the rifts among the U.S. military, senior civilian leadership and the Afghan government that in the end led to McChrystal's undoing.

As he drove to the hearing, for example, Petraeus had his third phone conversation in less than a week with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afterward, he flew home to Tampa, where he hosted Vice President Biden and his wife for dinner.

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