The officer President Bush has nominated to head the U.S. Army defended his record in his current job as commander of coalition forces in Iraq amid sharp criticism at a Senate hearing Thursday. VOA's Al Pessin reports on the confirmation hearing for General George Casey.
Senators peppered General Casey with questions about the deterioration in the security situation in Baghdad in recent years, and pointed out that his past predictions about U.S. troop reductions have not been accurate. Some of the strongest criticism came from Republican Senator John McCain, who is expected to seek his party's nomination for president next year.
"I question seriously the judgment that was employed in your execution of your responsibilities in Iraq," he said. "And we have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of what is now agreed to by literally everyone is a failed policy."
General Casey agreed with Senator McCain and others that things have not gone as he had hoped in Iraq, but he said the strategy he helped develop and implement was not a failure.
"Senator, I do not agree that we have a failed policy," he said. "I believe the president's new strategy will enhance the policy that we have."
General Casey said the new Iraq plan President Bush announced last month maintains the strategy of handing responsibility to Iraqi forces as quickly as possible. He said the new element is the effort to restore security in Baghdad. The general says he believes two additional U.S. brigades - about 7,000 troops - would be enough. President Bush has promised five brigades and Senator McCain says even more may be needed. Again, General Casey disagreed.
"I recognize we have a fundamental disagreement," he said. "And in my mind, the question has always been, 'Should we do it or should they do it?' 'It' being restore security. What I have tried to do in my time there is strike the right balance that allowed the Iraqi security forces and the government to keep moving forward, but at the same time having enough coalition presence there so that we could get the job done."
In the past, General Casey has warned that sending too many U.S. troops to Iraq would slow the development of the new Iraqi security forces. He said the Iraqi military is on track to take security responsibility for the entire country by the end of this year, but coalition forces will still need to provide some capabilities, such as air support.
The general is now supervising the initial implementation of President Bush's new plan. He told the Senate committee that so far the Iraqi government is fulfilling its commitment to prevent political interference in military operations in Baghdad.
"We will continue to monitor the delivery on these commitments, but so far the results have been heartening," he said.
If he is confirmed by the Senate as Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey will move out of the operational chain of command and will be responsible for the recruiting, training and equipping of the million-member U.S. Army. The Senate has already confirmed his replacement as coalition commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, an expert in counterinsurgency. If General Casey is confirmed in his new job he is expected to hand over command in Iraq to General Petraeus this month.