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US General David Petraeus Collapses During Hearing

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The head of the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, briefly collapsed Tuesday while testifying before members of the Congress on the war in Afghanistan.  

General Petraeus was appearing before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee when he appeared to bow his head and slump over the witness table.

Aides rushed to the four star general's side, but he quickly recovered and walked out of the hearing room under his own power.

The dramatic episode appeared to stun lawmakers, who moments earlier were questioning Petraeus over plans to start a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in July, 2011.

About 20 minutes later Petraeus returned to the room, smiling with a cup of water in his hand, saying he was dehydrated, feeling lightheaded, but was ready to resume the hearing.

The general had this conversation with the chairman of the committee, Senator Carl Levin.

PETRAEUS:  "Just got dehydrated."

LEVIN:  "General you have told us you are more than ready to go."

PETRAEUS: "I am."

LEVIN:  "You always are.  You are that kind of incredible person.  I have consulted with colleagues and we are going to overrule you."

With that, Senator Levin suspended the hearing until Wednesday.

The meeting was called to assess the situation in Afghanistan as thousands of U.S. troops continue to arrive in the country.

U.S. President Barack Obama has tripled the overall force since taking office, but says he will begin pulling troops out of the country next year.

Critics of the policy are concerned that progress in Afghanistan has been slower than expected.

Republican Senator John McCain:

"The decision to begin withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan arbitrarily in July 2011 seems to be having exactly the effect that many of us predicted it would," he said. "It is convincing the key actors inside and outside of Afghanistan that the United States is more interested in leaving than succeeding in this conflict."

Supporters of the Obama administration's strategy are quick to point out the withdrawal will be based on conditions in Afghanistan and Mr. Obama has yet to decide how quickly the troops will be brought home.

An updated assessment of the war, now in its ninth year, is due in December.

Strong Taliban resistance and persistent violence around Marja, which was supposed to be a model of the counterinsurgency campaign, has fueled doubts about the strategy.

A major civil-military operation in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, appears to be building more slowly than military planners originally anticipated.

U.S. officials have also expressed doubts about Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recently dismissed two senior security officials who were trusted by the Americans.

Despite these difficulties, General Petraeus says the military's timeline is on track.

"July 2011 is not the date where we race for the exits," he said. "It is the date, where having done an assessment, we begin a process of transition of tasks to Afghan security forces, based on conditions and begin a process of - quote - a responsible drawdown of our forces."

Under Secretary for Defense Policy Michele Flournoy told the committee that allied forces are beginning to regain the initiative against the stubborn Taliban insurgency, which she says has begun to lose momentum.

Flournoy says, however, the outcome is far from certain and the military is still in the early stages of the president's new strategy for Afghanistan.  

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