Afghanistan — Petraeus Puts Protecting People at Strategy’s Center

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2010 — Peo­ple are at the cen­ter of the coun­terin­sur­gency guid­ance the com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan issued yes­ter­day.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said the guid­ance will take “learn and adapt” to heart as the mantra for coun­terin­sur­gency, and added that he will learn and adapt his guid­ance in the weeks and months ahead.

Petraeus issued the Army’s coun­terin­sur­gency man­u­al when he was com­man­der of the Com­bined Arms Cen­ter at Fort Leav­en­worth, Kan. He refined that strat­e­gy when he served as the com­man­der of Multi­na­tion­al Force Iraq, and lat­er as com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

The guid­ance rec­og­nizes that the deci­sive ter­rain in Afghanistan is what the mil­i­tary calls the the “human ter­rain” – the pop­u­la­tion where coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions are tak­ing place.

“The peo­ple are the cen­ter of grav­i­ty,” Petraeus wrote in the guid­ance issued yes­ter­day. Sep­a­rat­ing the Tal­iban and oth­er ene­my groups from the peo­ple and pro­tect­ing them from threats is the way for­ward, he said.

Meet­ing and under­stand­ing the peo­ple is the main mis­sion for mil­i­tary forces and inter­na­tion­al civil­ian orga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try, the gen­er­al said. He wants ser­vice­mem­bers to con­duct foot patrols and talk with the peo­ple. “Take off your sun­glass­es,” Petraeus wrote. “Sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness can only be gained by inter­act­ing face to face, not sep­a­rat­ed by bal­lis­tic glass or Oaklys.”

NATO and Afghan forces have to live among the peo­ple to car­ry out the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, the general’s guid­ance states. “We can’t com­mute to the fight,” he wrote.

The idea of NATO troops liv­ing among the peo­ple and with the Afghan units they sup­port is key. For exam­ple, a U.S. mil­i­tary police unit part­ners with Afghan police in the south­ern city of Kan­da­har. By liv­ing with them, the unit’s mem­bers under­stand the peo­ple they work with and can adjust as need­ed, Petraeus explained.

The gen­er­al also addressed the need for effec­tive gov­ern­ment and for coun­ter­ing cor­rup­tion. “The Tal­iban are not the only ene­my of the peo­ple,” he wrote. “The peo­ple are also threat­ened by inad­e­quate gov­er­nance, cor­rup­tion and abuse of pow­er – recruiters for the Tal­iban.”

The coun­terin­sur­gency guid­ance tells ser­vice­mem­bers and civil­ians to work with the Afghan gov­ern­ment to strength­en the insti­tu­tions of the state, and make them respon­sive to the needs of the peo­ple.

But the guid­ance is not all vel­vet glove; it also calls for NATO and Afghan part­ners to pur­sue the ene­my relent­less­ly.

“When the extrem­ists fight, make them pay,” Petraeus wrote. “Seek out and elim­i­nate those who threat­en the pop­u­la­tion. Don’t let them intim­i­date the inno­cent.”

Pro­tect­ing the pop­u­la­tion means doing just that, the guid­ance says, but killing and injur­ing civil­ians works to the enemy’s advan­tage. Petraeus called on troops to fight with dis­ci­pline and to respect Afghan prop­er­ty.

“If we kill civil­ians or dam­age their prop­er­ty in the course of our oper­a­tions, we will cre­ate more ene­mies than our oper­a­tions elim­i­nate,” he said.

The guid­ance also says that tak­ing ter­ri­to­ry and then leav­ing it will not win the bat­tle. Coali­tion and Afghan forces must take and hold an area to allow inter­na­tion­al and Afghan gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions to sta­bi­lize the area. Jobs and good gov­ern­ment will win the bat­tle in the long run, the gen­er­al wrote, and ser­vice­mem­bers and civil­ians must think in the long run.

Mon­ey is ammu­ni­tion in a coun­terin­sur­gency, the guid­ance notes. And just as aimed fire is more effec­tive than spray­ing rounds, so too is invest­ing in the right places with the right peo­ple, Petraeus said.

The gen­er­al said he wants ser­vice­mem­bers and civil­ians to show the Afghan peo­ple the val­ues the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty holds dear.

“We are engaged in a tough endeav­or,” he said. “It is often bru­tal, phys­i­cal­ly demand­ing and frus­trat­ing. All of us expe­ri­ence moments of anger, but we must not give in to dark impuls­es or tol­er­ate unac­cept­able actions by oth­ers.”

Final­ly, Petraeus said he wants peo­ple to use their heads, and to use ini­tia­tive. “In the absence of guid­ance or orders, fig­ure out what the orders should have been and exe­cute them aggres­sive­ly,” he wrote.

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

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