Panel to Press Petraeus On Afghan Strategy

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Gen. David Petraeus, nominated to serve as the top commander in Afghanistan, appears before the Senate Armed Services committee Tuesday. While Petraeus is expected to be confirmed easily, Senators are predicted to press him on whether President Obama's strategy for the war in Afghanistan is working.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

David Petraeus has something of a job interview today. The general is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will decide whether to confirm him as the next top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. When, as is widely expected, he is confirmed, he'll face a long list of challenges -such as how to get the Afghan police force up and running. We'll hear more about that in a moment.

First, NPR's Rachel Martin tells us about today's hearing.

RACHEL MARTIN: General David Petraeus has been to this rodeo before. Just two weeks ago, before the Armed Services Committee, he was asked this by Senator Carl Levin.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): Do you continue to support that July 2011 date for the start of reduction in U.S. forces from Afghanistan?

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, U.S. Central Command): I support the policy of the president, Mr. Chairman.

MARTIN: The timeline the president has set to begin drawing down U.S. forces is going to be one issue for the general to grapple with today, because the senators are likely to use the hearing, not to measure General Petraeus, so much as the strategy he'll be sent to implement.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): There's a fundamental question about whether the strategy that we've undertaken in Afghanistan is working.

MARTIN: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine says she doesn't see progress in the war.

Sen. COLLINS: I see casualties higher than they've ever been. I see a central government that is still weak and plagued with corruption. So it's difficult for me to perceive progress.

MARTIN: Committee members will also likely press Petraeus on the military's relationship with the civilians making war policy, and how he plans to mend the rift that ended General Stanley McChrystal's career. McChrystal and his aides were quoted insulting U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein says Petraeus should be free to build his own team. Here she is on "Fox News Sunday."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Fox News Sunday")

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): He should make the call. If he can't work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can't work with Holbrooke, that should change. I mean, I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage.

MARTIN: Petraeus is expected to be confirmed quickly. After all, no one wants to complicate things for the man whose new job in Afghanistan will be complicated enough.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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