Afghanistan — Petraeus Discusses Pros, Cons of July 2011 Deadline

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010 — Sen­a­tors ques­tioned Army Gen. David H. Petraeus repeat­ed­ly on his under­stand­ing of the July 2011 tar­get date to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has nom­i­nat­ed Petraeus – the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand – to be com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces. The com­mit­tee passed its rec­om­men­da­tion for con­fir­ma­tion to the full Sen­ate after the hear­ing. The general’s nom­i­na­tion for the NATO post must go through NATO chan­nels.

When Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma laid out the new strat­e­gy in Afghanistan dur­ing a speech at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my in Decem­ber, he said that he would add 30,000 Amer­i­can troops to the mix, but that U.S. forces would begin return­ing to the Unit­ed States in July 2011 if con­di­tions on the ground allow. Petraeus told the sen­a­tors that he sup­port­ed and agrees with the president’s strat­e­gy.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan would “begin a process in July 2011 under which tasks are trans­ferred to Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and gov­ern­ment offi­cials and a ‘respon­si­ble draw­down’ of the surge forces begins, pace to be deter­mined by con­di­tions,” he said.

Amer­i­can forces in Afghanistan are relent­less­ly pur­su­ing the Tal­iban and their al-Qai­da allies, and com­man­ders and polit­i­cal lead­ers must con­sid­er con­di­tions on the ground before a draw­down begins, the gen­er­al said.

Still, he added, the dead­line does make sense.

“On the one hand, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty experts say that there’s no greater pro­duc­tiv­i­ty tool than a dead­line,” Petraeus said. “The mes­sage of urgency that the dead­line con­veyed … was not just for domes­tic polit­i­cal pur­pos­es. It was for audi­ences in [the Afghan cap­i­tal of] Kab­ul, who … need­ed to be remind­ed that we won’t be there for­ev­er. But we will be there, and pre­sum­ably for quite some time.”

The dead­line tells the Afghans that they need to move for­ward smart­ly on poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to effect change, Petraeus said. “I think it did actu­al­ly gal­va­nize some degree of action,” he told the com­mit­tee. “There may have been some mes­sage for some of us in uni­form that we need­ed to get on with it. The truth is that ear­ly on in the process, we were look­ing at a more delib­er­ate cam­paign. We com­pressed that, get­ting the troops on the ground much more rapid­ly than was orig­i­nal­ly even thought pos­si­ble.”

But a dead­line also can give ene­mies the impres­sion they sim­ply can wait it out, the gen­er­al not­ed.

“You have to make sure that the ene­my does not inter­pret that as that moment where­as it was said the Unit­ed States is head­ing for the exits, look­ing for the light switch to turn it off because we’re out of here, because that is not accu­rate, at least not in my per­cep­tion,” Petraeus said.

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