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US Petraeus Urges Patience Over Iraq; Situation ‘Dire’ January 23, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News, World News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The Army general who would carry out President George W. Bush’s new war plan urged a skeptical Congress and American public Tuesday to be patient, but acknowledged “the situation in Iraq is dire.”

“None of this will be rapid,” Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy.”

Many in Congress, including some Republicans, oppose Bush’s plan, which would send an extra 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq as part of a revised strategy for quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad and stabilizing the country. Before Bush’s build up began in recent days, there were 132,000 U.S. troops there.

In a sign of the strain of the Iraq war, the top generals in the Army and Marine Corps told a House of Representatives’ committee Tuesday they are concerned about the military’s ability to respond to other world crises.

“We have examined other war plans and our capability to respond to those plans, and we see that we are lacking in some areas in our ability to do so,” said Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

“We feel we would be able to respond with those forces that are not committed to Iraq or Afghanistan – that the response would be slower than we might like,” he said.

Bush nominated Petraeus to replace Army Gen. George Casey as the senior American commander in Iraq. Petraeus is considered a shoo-in to win Senate confirmation as commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq, but senators used his appearance Tuesday before the Senate panel to question him on how Bush’s new strategy would work.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., committee chairman and a leading war policy critic, pressed Petraeus on whether the flow of additional U.S. troops could be halted in midstream if the Iraqi government failed to meet its commitment to provide thousands more Iraqi troops.

“It could,” Petraeus replied. Earlier he said there were no “specific conditions” the Iraqis must meet in order to keep the flow of U.S. forces moving. The last of five additional U.S. brigades are scheduled to arrive in the Iraqi capital in May; the first got there just days ago.

Petraeus said that in the event the Iraqis did not meet their commitments, he would consult with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on how to respond.

He said he would not have accepted the nomination to take command in Baghdad if he did not believe Bush’s plan could achieve its goals.

In his opening statement, Petraeus, 54, painted a grim picture of conditions in Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard… But hard is not hopeless,” he said.

Petraeus is a former division commander and once the head of the Iraqi training mission. Devoted early in the war to trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, Petraeus later wrote the Pentagon manual on how to tackle insurgencies. He also previously supported expanding U.S. forces in the region.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading proponent of Bush’s troop build up plan, asked Petraeus how long he thought the U.S. build up could be sustained.

“I am keenly aware of the strain” on the Army and Marine Corps, Petraeus said, adding that he welcomes Bush’s proposal to increase the size of the land forces over the coming five years.

Asked by McCain how soon he thought he would know whether the new strategy was working, Petraeus said, “We would have indicators at the least during the late summer.” As currently planned, he said, the last of the five additional U.S. Army brigades would be ready to fight in Baghdad by the end of May.

“I wonder whether the clock has already run out,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a sponsor of a Republican-led resolution saying the Senate disagrees with the build up. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived “not as liberators, but as occupiers.”

Several committee members noted that Petraeus recently oversaw the writing of a new Army manual on how to counter an insurgency. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a Democrat, asked him why an extra 21,500 would make a significant difference.

Petraeus replied that the important factor was how extra troops are used, not their numbers. Their main focus, he said, will be on securing the civilian population of the capital rather than killing insurgents.

Kennedy asked how long the extra troops would remain in Iraq.

“I don’t know what the time limitation is,” Petraeus replied, adding that it would be reasonable to give the Iraqi government more time to gain its political footing and to make the tough decisions needed to quell sectarian violence.

Casey said last week that the new U.S. troops might be able to begin leaving as early as late summer.

White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, a Democrat, launched a sharp attack on the administration’s Iraq record and called Bush’s new strategy “a dead end.”

She also noted that Petraeus oversaw the writing of a new counterinsurgency manual. “You wrote the book general, but the policy is not by the book. And you are being asked to square the circle.”

Separately, two groups of lawmakers worked Tuesday on a series of resolutions voicing varying degrees of disapproval with Bush’s plan.

“My guess is that there will be overwhelming rejection” of Bush’s troop increase when the two resolutions are combined and voted on by the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who is its chairman.

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