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16 Jun, 2010 20:49

Petraeus faces tough questions on Afghanistan

Was it dehydration or a bad omen? The sight of the US military’s top commander collapsing just before an emergency congressional hearing appears to reflect the gridlock that has become the war in Afghanistan.

It’s an unusual way to open a hearing, condemning what nearly half the members on this committee called "trash journalism," which they insist is skewing public opinion and US President Barack Obama's judgment on how the military is performing in the war in Afghanistan, now the longest war in US history.

Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) scolded news reports critical of the US-led operations.

"According to what is trash journalism, Vice President [Joe] Biden said [that] in July of 2011, you're going to see a lot of people in Afghanistan moving out," McCain said.

Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent-Connecticut) also made reference to negative media reporting.

"Notwithstanding anything we might have read or what my colleague and friend from Arizona called trash journalism, the fact is what is happening on the ground at that time will determine whether we will withdrawal troops in July of 2011," said Lieberman.

What is trash journalism?

“I don't know what they are referring to specifically, there have been a number of negative [media] reports," said Senator Jeff Sessions (Republican-Alabama.

"Trash journalism, I think would be, exaggerating successes or minimizing failures or putting our soldiers in a bad light," said Senator Lindsay Graham (Republican-South Carolina). 

But trash journalism didn’t trigger or even cause multiple battalions of the Afghan National Army from failing their highly anticipated validity tests. Nor did it scale back what was supposed to be a major offensive in Khandahar or guarantee success in the military’s latest full scale operation into Taliban strong hold Marjah.

Words of encouragement from the head of Central Command, General David Petraeus, still don’t satisfy Senator Jim Webb (Democrat-Virginia), a veteran of the Vietnam War.

"I've never been optimistic, I have been hopeful, I have respect for people who are doing this, but the questions I asked last year are really the same," said Webb

Weary lawmakers were also concerned with whether the US is winning or not.

"Winning to a counter-insurgent center means making progress," said Petraeus in response to that question from the committee.

The congressional hearings came barely a day after General Petraeus pleaded with British allies for additional help and extended support. Also in the works – an emergency war supplemental topping $33 billion dollars to aid the troop surge Obama pledged last year. Since that announcement 17 months ago, only 21,000 out of the 30,000 that are meant to be on the ground for the Kandahar invasion are still trickling in.

So would would success in Afghanistan look like?

"It would be a stable government that allows the decent people of Afghanistan to have a decent life," said Sessions.

A rosy picture Congress and the military leadership are painting and trying to pursue in a country where bad news is more than just trash journalism. When questioned about the July 2011 deadline for possible withdrawal, Petraeus said, "That is not the date when we look for the door and turn off the light, but rather a date in which a process begins."