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Officials: Petraeus to hand off Afghan command sooner than expected

By KEVIN BARON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 22, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon wants Gen. David Petraeus out of Afghanistan by mid-July, much sooner than the original September target date for his change of command, giving the general time for a break before he takes over as CIA director.

Defense Department and military officials confirm there are plans for Petraeus to leave immediately after his deputy and operational commander Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez ends his term in country. Rodriguez’s last day is expected to be July 11, with Petraeus tentatively scheduled to leave July 18.

Petraeus’ exit, however, depends on the Senate confirming his replacement, Central Command deputy Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen. That hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

“[Allen] needs to be confirmed to take the job, and NATO also has an approval process that must be met,” said Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Pentagon leaders want Petraeus to get a break in between jobs.

Petraeus is perhaps the most recognizable man in uniform and his exit from Afghanistan is likely to be as symbolically significant as was his entrance. Once known for his leadership of the surge in Iraq, Petraeus was chosen by President Barack Obama to replace fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal in June 2010. Officials said at the time it was clear there was no other man for the job. Petraeus was heading Central Command at the time and in answering the president’s call — reportedly before even talking to his wife — he stepped down one rung in the chain of command to take over the Afghanistan War.

The assignment was always considered short-term, and the general’s future in Washington was frequently debated, as possible chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or even a Republican presidential candidate. Instead, he accepted Obama’s offer to replace CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Panetta was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday to be the secretary of defense. Petraeus has been in Washington for more than week preparing for his own confirmation hearing on Thursday. He will retire from the Army before starting at CIA.

Rodriguez’s replacement, Lt. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan by the end of the month before assuming command of the International Security Assistance Force’s joint operations, a key position as daily battlefield manager and right-hand man to the commanding general. The two also met this month at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state to prepare for the transition.

Allen’s Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday also will address the nominations for Gen. James Thurman to take over U.S. Forces Korea and Vice Adm. William McRaven to lead U.S. Special Operations Command.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @StripesBaron

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