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With Petraeus in Wings, Republicans Renew Criticism of Afghan Exit Strategy

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Senate Armed Services Committee members, from left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 23, 2010. (AP)

With Gen. David Petraeus set to take command of the nine-year war in Afghanistan, Republican lawmakers, who have largely supported the change in leadership, are reprising their criticism of next summer's troop drawdown deadline – an issue they plan to raise during Petraeus' confirmation hearing.

Petraeus -- tapped by President Obama on Wednesday to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who resigned after his disparaging remarks about the administration were published in Rolling Stone -- will testify at a confirmation hearing  Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He is expected to win confirmation swiftly and easily -- but the hearing will give Republicans an opportunity to sound the alarm over Obama's July 2011 troop withdrawal deadline.

"Gen. Petraeus has the right idea, but even Gen. Petraeus is not going to be able to succeed in a fight if the president continues to stick with his promise to withdraw troops by 2011," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. 

"Then he's setting Gen. Petraeus up for failure, because our allies and our enemies are already planning on that withdrawal," he said. "And you cannot impose a calendar on a successful war, because the bad guys and the good guys both have calendars."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the drawdown deadline would be of great interest at the confirmation hearing.

"We cannot send a message to our adversaries, even when we have the leadership of a great American like Gen. Petraeus, we cannot send a message…that we are leaving at an arbitrary date," McCain said, adding, "I do not believe even Gen. Petraeus can succeed by a date certain."

Democrats note that Obama has insisted that the withdrawal will be based on conditions.

And just last week, Petraeus tried to reassure lawmakers that there will not a rush to the exit starting next July.

Petraeus said at a Senate hearing that setting the July date was meant partly to pressure the Afghan government to work harder to provide services and reduce corruption, both of which are crucial to the military effort to defeat the insurgents. 

Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy said Obama has not set a timeline for exactly how many troops will come home at any given point, because the president believes that will depend on progress in the war. 

Retired Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a former Army intelligence officer who served under McChrystal, agreed with Republican criticisms, saying a timeline cannot be imposed on a counterinsurgency.

"It's counterintuitive plus it's against doctrine," he told Fox News, adding that the deadline is unrealistic when considering that the population in Afghanistan is largely illiterate.

"And the idea of training an adequate number of troops and police to take over their own responsibilities in that time is not realistic," he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the deadline "confusing," saying it "undercuts the war effort."

"I think it needs to be reevaluated," he said.

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