Afghanistan — Petraeus Calls Unity of Purpose, Effort Crucial

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 — Uni­ty of pur­pose in Afghanistan is essen­tial to win­ning the coun­terin­sur­gency fight in the coun­try, the new com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said today.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels, Bel­gium, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen both called for increased coop­er­a­tion. It was Petraeus’s first appear­ance since the Sen­ate con­firmed him for his new job yes­ter­day.

The gen­er­al briefed the alliance’s North Atlantic Coun­cil and allied nations with troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Dur­ing the meet­ing, Petraeus received three clear mes­sages from the 46 Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force part­ners, Ras­mussen said. “First, the gen­er­al has our full sup­port,” the sec­re­tary gen­er­al said. Sec­ond, the ISAF nations are unit­ed in sup­port­ing the strat­e­gy in Afghanistan. “This has been a change of com­mand, but not a change of strat­e­gy,” the sec­re­tary gen­er­al said.

Final­ly, the mis­sion itself has the nation’s and alliance’s full sup­port, Ras­mussen said.

“Allies and part­ners will stay com­mit­ted as long as it takes to fin­ish the job,” he said. “Obvi­ous­ly, that does not mean for­ev­er. Our mis­sion will end when Afghans are capa­ble to secure and gov­ern the coun­try them­selves.”

Petraeus stressed the impor­tance of the civ­il-mil­i­tary part­ner­ship in Afghanistan as part of the com­pre­hen­sive approach to oper­a­tions in the coun­try.

“We must all work togeth­er,” he said. This includes with­in the U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies, with­in the NATO alliance, with­in the greater coali­tion, and espe­cial­ly with the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

“We must achieve uni­ty of effort in what is clear­ly an effort to achieve mutu­al objec­tives,” he con­tin­ued. Nations have mutu­al objec­tives, the gen­er­al not­ed, because Afghanistan was the breed­ing ground for ter­ror­ist attacks that have killed thou­sands in the Unit­ed States, Great Britain, Indone­sia, Madrid and oth­er places.

Petraeus thanked the North Atlantic Coun­cil for its sup­port.

“It was very heart­en­ing to hear the sup­port that was voiced there,” he said, “even as we know the very dif­fi­cult times that we have seen in Afghanistan, where there has with­out ques­tion been tough fight­ing and where there have been tough casu­al­ties, although where there have also been areas of progress in recent weeks, in recent months, and where we are deter­mined to achieve fur­ther progress in the course of the months ahead.”

Petraeus said he ful­ly favors the strat­e­gy of pro­tect­ing the Afghan pop­u­la­tion and less­en­ing the num­ber of casu­al­ties of inno­cent civil­ians. “We must main­tain the com­mit­ment to reduc­ing the loss of inno­cent civil­ian life, in the course of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, to an absolute min­i­mum,” he said.

He will not revise the rules of engage­ment that delin­eate the use of force and the use of close-air sup­port, he said, but he will ensure that tac­ti­cal com­man­ders apply the rules cor­rect­ly.

“There are con­cerns among the ranks of some of our troop­ers on the ground that some of the process­es have become a bit too bureau­crat­ic,” he said, adding that he has “a moral imper­a­tive as a com­man­der” to use all the force nec­es­sary to pro­tect coali­tion and Afghan forces. He said he has dis­cussed this with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, Defense Min­is­ter Abdul War­dak and Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Bish­mul­lah Khan.

“They absolute­ly sup­port the intent that I explained to them,” he said, “which was, on the one hand, to main­tain the focus on the reduc­tion of loss of inno­cent civil­ian life in the course of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions and also to ensure that our troop­ers and our means now, Afghan as ISAF, are sup­port­ed by all means when they are in a tough posi­tion.”

The gen­er­al said that while the Tal­iban have lost the ini­tia­tive in cer­tain areas of the coun­try, this means the fight­ing will get tougher, not eas­i­er.

“When you take away the enemy’s … safe havens, the ene­my fights back,” he said. “You may recall that in Iraq, the high­est lev­els of vio­lence ever record­ed in Iraq were months into the surge. They were very, very high at the begin­ning of the surge, but they actu­al­ly went up – vast­ly.”

The same has been true in Afghanistan, where the Amer­i­can surge is ahead of sched­ule, and the lev­els of vio­lence are high­er, Petraeus not­ed. “When we take away what the ene­my val­ues, the ene­my fights back,” he said.

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