Afghanistan — Afghanistan Progress Must Be Extended, Petraeus Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2010 — Grow­ing pock­ets of secu­ri­ty progress in Afghanistan must be extend­ed and linked to ful­ly root out the Tal­iban and oth­er extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions, and that will take time, the top U.S. and NATO com­man­der there said in a pre­re­cord­ed inter­view aired today.

“We’re mak­ing progress, and progress is win­ning, if you will,” Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told NBC’s David Gre­go­ry in the “Meet the Press” inter­view. “But it takes the accu­mu­la­tion of a lot of progress ulti­mate­ly … to win over­all, and that’s going to be a long-term propo­si­tion, with­out ques­tion.”

In his first sig­nif­i­cant inter­view since tak­ing com­mand of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus acknowl­edged what he called “up and down” progress, with coali­tion and Afghan forces tak­ing key sanc­tu­ar­ies from the Tal­iban, but not with­out a fight. Petraeus said progress real­ly only began this spring, as more U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces began pour­ing into the coun­try, stretch­ing out into areas that before were Tal­iban strong­holds.

Late spring saw oper­a­tions in cen­tral Hel­mand province start to improve secu­ri­ty con­di­tions there, but now expand­ing into neigh­bor­ing Kan­da­har province is prov­ing to be a “tough fight,” the gen­er­al said.

“What we have are areas of progress. We’ve got to link those togeth­er, extend them, and then build on it, because of course the secu­ri­ty progress … is the foun­da­tion for every­thing else — for the gov­er­nance progress, the eco­nom­ic progress, rule of law progress and so forth,” Petraeus said.

The gen­er­al said he under­stands the grow­ing lack of U.S. patience for the war in Afghanistan, but he not­ed that only in the past 18 months has the prop­er focus been in place for the strat­e­gy on the ground there.

“A lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and start­ed look­ing intent­ly at Afghanistan,” he said. “We real­ized that we did not have the orga­ni­za­tions that are required for the con­duct of a com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign.”

Also, he said the fight in Afghanistan was under-resourced.

Under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s orders, by the end of this month the num­ber of U.S. troops on the ground there will have near­ly tripled, Petraeus said. Also, NATO forces have expand­ed, and the num­ber of civil­ians sup­port­ing the war will have tripled. Fund­ing also was increased to train 100,000 more Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan now has almost 120,000 troops from 47 dif­fer­ent coun­tries assigned to it. The Unit­ed States pro­vides 78,430 of those ISAF troops, part of the rough­ly 100,000 Amer­i­can troops now based in the coun­try.

The largest region­al com­mand in Afghanistan is in the south, with 35,000 troops. The com­mand is focused on Kan­da­har, the country’s sec­ond-largest city and the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban. The next-largest region­al com­mand is in the east, with 32,000 per­son­nel.

After the Unit­ed States, the coun­try with the largest num­ber of troops with ISAF is the Unit­ed King­dom with 9,500, fol­lowed by Ger­many with 4,590. France is next with 3,750, fol­lowed by Italy with 3,400, Cana­da with 2,830, Poland with 2,630, Roma­nia with 1,760, Turkey with 1,740, Spain with 1,555, and Aus­tralia with 1,455.

“The inputs are already enabling some out­puts,” Petraeus said. “And, of course, what we have got to show is that these addi­tion­al inputs can allow greater progress, and that that’s progress that can be sus­tained, over time, by Afghan forces and Afghan offi­cials.”

Petraeus said the com­mit­ment in Afghanistan will be endur­ing, and would not say how many U.S. troops will begin to leave under Obama’s July 2011 tran­si­tion time­line.

“It would pre­ma­ture to have any kind of assess­ment at this junc­ture as to about what we may or may not be able to tran­si­tion,” he said. But, he added, any troop move­ment will be based on the con­di­tions on the ground.

“As the con­di­tions per­mit, we tran­si­tion tasks to our Afghan coun­ter­parts and the secu­ri­ty forces in var­i­ous gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tions, and that enables a respon­si­ble draw­down of our forces,” he said.

Petraeus said Obama’s July 2011 time­line to begin turn­ing secu­ri­ty over to the Afghans and draw­ing down U.S. forces pro­vides a sense of urgency for Afghan lead­ers, peo­ple in uni­form and civil­ians con­tribut­ing to the effort “that we’ve got to get on with this, [that] this has been going on for some nine years or so, that there is under­stand­able con­cern [and] in some cas­es, frus­tra­tion.”

“And there­fore,” he said, “we have got to real­ly put our shoul­ders to the wheel and show, dur­ing the course of this year, that progress can be achieved.”

Regard­less of how the tran­si­tion plays out next sum­mer, Petraeus pre­dict­ed an endur­ing U.S. com­mit­ment in Afghanistan that will evolve as the capa­bil­i­ties of the Afghan gov­ern­ment and its forces improve. At the end of the day, he said, it boils down to the Afghan gov­ern­ment becom­ing accept­ed and sup­port­ed by its peo­ple, and in turn pro­vid­ing the sup­port and ser­vices the peo­ple expect.

“It’s not about their embrace of us. It’s not about us win­ning hearts and minds,” Petraeus said. “It’s about the Afghan gov­ern­ment win­ning hearts and minds.”

Petraeus said he is leery of using the term “win­ning” with ref­er­ence to the fight in Afghanistan, because it implies a clear-cut and obvi­ous vic­to­ry that will not nec­es­sar­i­ly ensue.

“It seems to imply that … you just find the right hill out there some­where, you take it, you plant the flag, and you go home to a vic­to­ry parade. I don’t think that’s going to be the case here,” he said. “I think … that this [is] going to require a sub­stan­tial, sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ment, and that it is going to have to be endur­ing, to some degree — again, albeit its char­ac­ter and its size being scaled down over the years.”

In the end, the gen­er­al said, the Unit­ed States must remem­ber why it began fight­ing in Afghanistan in first place.

“We are here so that Afghanistan does not, once again, become a sanc­tu­ary for transna­tion­al extrem­ists the way it was when al-Qai­da planned the 9/11 attacks in the Kan­da­har area, con­duct­ed the ini­tial train­ing for the attack­ers in train­ing camps in Afghanistan before they moved on to Ger­many and then to U.S. flight schools,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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