Citing ‘A Sacred Obligation with Our Troopers,’ Petraeus Won’t Rule Out Asking for an Increase in Troops in Afghanistan

By Chris Neefus | June 16, 2010 | 4:48 PM EDT

( - Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that it is his “sacred obligation” to U.S. troops to give the president his best military advice and that as a result he could never rule out asking for an increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan—even though President Barack Obama is committed to begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country in July 2011.
Petraeus made the remark when responding to questioning from Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who was trying to get the general to rule out the possibility that additional troops could be sent to Afghanistan.
“I owe the president my best professional military advice, and that’s something that’s a sacred obligation with our troopers,” said Petraeus. “I would never rule out coming back and asking for something more. I think that would be irresponsible."

At the same time, Petraeus, who is commander of the United States Central Command which oversees the U.S. war in Afghanistan, made it clear that it is the “intention right now” to begin withdrawing troops in July of next year and that General Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, has indicated that the military believes they have sufficient forces to carry out their strategy in Afghanistan.
Petraeus reiterated throughout the hearing that the rate of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be contingent upon the assessment of conditions on the ground at the time. Some Republicans on the committee, however, criticized the president’s decision to preset a date on when the drawdown should begin.
“I continue to disagree with the arbitrary timeline set by President Obama and remain convinced that a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces will be devastating to Afghanistan, the region and our national security,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.).
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the committee, said during the hearing he thinks the July 2011 drawdown date sends the wrong message about America’s long-term commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan.
--Edwin Mora contributed to this report. 
Here is a partial transcript of the exchange between Gen. Petraeus and Sen. Kaufman:
Sen. Ted Kaufman (D.-Del.): Next June, 2011, we’re going to begin to draw down troops. The question on conditions on the ground is just how many troops we draw down. Is that correct?
Gen. David Petraeus: That is correct. Again, that’s the point—actually, July 2011--that’s the point at which, again, the term ‘responsible drawdown of the surge forces’ begins at a rate to be determined by the conditions.
Kaufman: Exactly. So, it’s not whether we’re going to draw down, it’s the rate that is determined by conditions on the ground.
Petraeus: That’s the policy. That’s correct.
Kaufman: And there will be no more new introduction of troops?

Petraeus: That is not the intention right now.
Kaufman: Right. No, but, I mean, I think both Chairman Mullen, the Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton said in the Foreign Relations Committee that there would—that this would preclude any drawdown in troops. Secretary Gates said that there may be the 3,000 troops we may need for guards and things like that, but essentially; this is not a situation where we’re going to be increasing the troops in Afghanistan?
Petraeus: Senator, I, as a commander, as a military commander who owes the commander in chief and our troops in the field my best, I owe the president my best professional military advice, and that’s something that’s a sacred obligation with our troopers, I would never rule out coming back and asking for something more. I think that would be irresponsible. The intention right now is the, our consideration right now, our view is that with the additional forces ordered by the president, with the flex that you mentioned that Sec. Gates has--and General McChrystal has stated this in a letter to the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee--that we will have to the forces required to execute the strategy.
Kaufman: Right, no, and I think your role is perfect and I guess I should’ve directed it to Secretary Flournoy because it was uh—it was the, uh, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State who said we not introduce new troops. General, I totally respect the fact, and I would be--I mean, it goes without saying that you would ask for more troops if you think we need more troops to provide our military objective.