WASHINGTON — Gen. David Petraeus collapsed Tuesday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, halting the hearing and raising renewed questions about the key military commanders' health.
The head of the U. S. Central Command had been describing how next year's drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is on schedule. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's top Republican, had just grilled Petraeus about whether setting a July 2011 date to begin withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan had hurt the U.S. effort there.
Suddenly, Petraeus slumped and laid his head on the witness table. The huge hearing room became quiet. Michele Flournoy, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, who was testifying with him, poured water for him, as various military and civilian aides surrounded him — one blocking the camera recording the hearing.
The general walked out on his own and returned about 25 minutes later, holding a cup of water and sheepishly grinning as he re-greeted members of the committee, who applauded as he walked back into the room. Petraeus went back to his seat and told the committee that he "got a little bit lightheaded there. It wasn't Senator McCain's question." But Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., adjourned the hearing until Wednesday.
The 400 people in the room applauded, and Petraeus briskly left the room.
Petraeus, 57, famously recovered quickly from a shooting accident at Fort Bragg, N.C., earlier in his career, and he prides himself on his quick recovery from injuries. But in just the past two years, he has undergone treatment for prostate cancer. He told the committee that he was prepared to continue testifying.
The general was expected to endure tough questions from the committee about the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Before Petraeus fainted, Flournoy testified that, overall, "things are headed in the right direction," despite rising violence, growing tensions between the Obama administration and the Karzai government, a deteriorating security situation in the southern city of Marjah weeks after a major U.S. operation there, and an operation in Kandahar, the largest city in the south, that is already stalled.
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