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Mattis gains Senate committee recommendation; upbeat on war in Afghanistan

By LUKE X. MARTIN, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI
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Gen. James Mattis, nominated to replace Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of U.S. Central Command, listens to opening statements at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his confirmation on Capitol Hill in Washington UPI/Alexis C. Glenn | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/86fc4b2879fcb6721dc62eb2c959c744/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Gen. James Mattis, nominated to replace Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of U.S. Central Command, listens to opening statements at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his confirmation on Capitol Hill in Washington UPI/Alexis C. Glenn | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 27 (UPI) -- The general U.S. President Barack Obama tapped to lead the U.S. Central Command cruised through a key U.S. Senate committee confirmation hearing Tuesday but not without questions on what he'd do about the war in Afghanistan.

Congress, which must approve the president's appointment, is considering U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis to succeed U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, who left the position in June to oversee the International Security Forces in Afghanistan.

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After commending the general's 30-year career, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, stressed Afghanistan -- and Petraeus' work there -- would be a major concern.

"A top priority for the next CENTCOM commander will be ensuring that General Petraeus has what he needs to succeed," Levin said.

Echoing Obama and Petraeus, Mattis noted, "CENTCOM leadership has changed but our strategy, our mission and our activities have not."

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Central Command's area of responsibility extends from Egypt east to Pakistan and north to Kazakhstan. In the new post, Mattis' would command about 215,000 troops from all branches of the military, most of whom are in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Referring to the thousands of recently leaked Pentagon documents, Mattis said they would have little effect on operations in Afghanistan and stressed the importance of working with Pakistani forces.

"I think we have a stronger strategic relationship, and more support today from the Pakistani military then we've enjoyed in 10 years," he said.

Citing evidence that Pakistani forces were still working with insurgents in Afghanistan, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned the president's plan to begin withdrawing troops from the country next year.

Mattis noted that the drawdown date was simply the beginning of a process and that "it's no surprise to me that there may be some continued relationships" between the Pakistan army and Afghan insurgents. "It's hard to wipe the slate clean and just start over at any one point, and clearly the offensive against many of the people they allegedly used to work with shows they are no longer friends with most of them," he said.

The general saved most of his ire for political leaders in Iran.

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"We are looking at a country that is undiminished in its efforts to enrich uranium, to oppress their own people and to support murderous proxy units all over the region," he said. "It is unhelpful in the extreme."

In his current post as chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command, Mattis is in charge of concept development, experimentation and training for all U.S. armed service branches as well as coordination of military operations and activities.

Recent reports indicate that the Defense Budget Board, an independent advisory body, will recommend that Defense Secretary Robert Gates eliminate the Joint Forces Command an attempt to cut Pentagon spending.

Before his time with Joint Forces Command, the general led the 1st Marine Division, helping liberate Kuwait City during the Persian Gulf War. In 2001 and 2002, he played a major role in combat operations in Afghanistan, commanding Marine Task Force 58 and carrying out the longest helicopter insertion of troops -- more than 400 miles -- in the history of warfare.

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