"I wouldn't call it eroding," Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said of once-solid Democratic support for President Barack Obama's war strategy. "But there's a lot of fair concern." Congressional hearings stepped up pressure on the Pentagon, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates complaining about negative perceptions taking root in Washington about the war. Another top military official acknowledged feeling "angst" about the conflict.
The debate comes six months after Obama ordered 30,000 more Americans to the fight with the promise that troop withdrawals would begin in July 2011. That promise helped to placate Democrats who did not want an enduring troop commitment in Afghanistan.
But with the intervening months proving to be a long and deadly slog, and November elections approaching, it's becoming questionable whether Democratic backing can hold. And lawmakers were reminded Wednesday that there is no deadline for completing a troop pullout, and that the pace of withdrawal will depend on circumstances at the time.
In a separate Senate hearing, Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the war as head of U.S. Central Command, compared the conflict to a roller-coaster ride with ups and downs similar to what was seen in Iraq.
"This is a tough, tough business," he said. "And those who are living it have to keep their eye on the horizon to ensure the trajectory is generally upward."
Military officials say most of the extra troops have arrived, but it will take several more months before marked progress can be shown.