Petraeus: Counterinsurgency Strategy Has ‘Borne Fruit’

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2011 — The com­man­der of the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, the offi­cer many view as the archi­tect of the Defense Department’s coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, assessed its results in Afghanistan as he pre­pares to retire.

Dur­ing his last full week com­mand­ing coali­tion and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus dis­cussed his tenure there with NATO TV yes­ter­day.

“What we have done is imple­ment the so-called NATO com­pre­hen­sive approach, a civ­il-mil­i­tary cam­paign … that does indeed embody many of the prin­ci­ples of the coun­terin­sur­gency field man­u­al that we devel­oped back in 2006, and which we employed in Iraq in the surge of 2007–2008,” he said. “I think gen­er­al­ly, it has borne fruit.”

Petraeus and Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis, who suc­ceed­ed him in August as com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, joint­ly over­saw the manual’s devel­op­ment and pub­li­ca­tion. Petraeus has issued fur­ther coun­terin­sur­gency guid­ance on troop oper­a­tions and con­tract­ing since assum­ing the ISAF com­mand in July 2010.

There have been set­backs as well as suc­cess­es, the gen­er­al said, but over the last year coali­tion and Afghan forces have halt­ed the Taliban’s momen­tum in much of the coun­try, and reversed the insur­gent hold in cen­tral Hel­mand province, dis­tricts around Kan­da­har city and in the secu­ri­ty bub­ble in and around the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul.

While ISAF and Afghan forces have increased their hold in many pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, there is still a tough fight for con­trol of the coun­try, he said.

“We always say it gets hard­er before it gets eas­i­er, and we have def­i­nite­ly been in the ‘get­ting hard­er’ phase of this over­all endeav­or,” the gen­er­al not­ed.

The num­ber of ene­my attacks between last May and this May was about the same, he said, and lev­els in June decreased by 3 to 5 per­cent from last year. That trend may not con­tin­ue, but is still note­wor­thy for those two months, Petraeus said, par­tic­u­lar­ly since the increase in vio­lent inci­dents from 2009 to 2010 was “very, very sig­nif­i­cant.”

“But this is hard,” he said. “There is a resilient ene­my, and there is no ques­tion … that ene­my is will­ing to cause civil­ian casu­al­ties. It’s an ene­my will­ing to blow him­self up, in some cas­es, to achieve objec­tives.”

Ene­my activ­i­ty with­in Afghanistan’s bor­der area with Pak­istan is a very seri­ous chal­lenge, the gen­er­al said.

Petraeus said ISAF and Afghan forces have worked togeth­er to estab­lish a lay­ered bor­der defense in key loca­tions such as the area between Khost province and North Waziris­tan. The pro­tec­tion force there “is quite effec­tive and well sup­port­ed,” he added.

Coali­tion troops plan to expand that force and estab­lish sim­i­lar defens­es in Pak­ti­ka province and oth­er “rugged, moun­tain­ous trib­al areas in which the insur­gents have been able to estab­lish safe havens over the years,” he said.

“Many of these areas, frankly, are just not those in which you will ever see size­able Afghan or ISAF forces,” he acknowl­edged.

With moun­tains reach­ing to 14,000 feet and sparse pop­u­la­tion, he said, the bor­der area requires sus­tain­able secu­ri­ty solu­tions that will deny insur­gents access to the Afghan side of the bor­der. The chal­lenge then, he said, will be to “work with our Pak­istani part­ners so that they can do the same on the oth­er side.”

“Keep in mind, many of these insur­gents are pos­ing what we believe is the most exis­ten­tial threat to Pak­istan,” Petraeus said. “[They] pose the most urgent threat to the very exis­tence of the Pak­istani state, as its cit­i­zens know it, … killing dozens of Pak­istani civil­ians in an aver­age week.”

In con­trast, and in keep­ing with the coalition’s empha­sis on min­i­miz­ing civil­ian casu­al­ties, he said, coali­tion spe­cial oper­a­tions activ­i­ties gen­er­al­ly result in no shots fired.

“They have been very effec­tive, indeed, in get­ting those indi­vid­u­als we’re seek­ing,” he said. “Typ­i­cal­ly cap­tur­ing them, because we want to inter­ro­gate them and … learn more about their net­works.”

The hier­ar­chy of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces is capa­ble “with some caveats,” the gen­er­al said.

“The Afghan spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, over 12,000 of them now, [are] real­ly quite capa­ble and indeed lead­ing near­ly a quar­ter of the so-called night raids at this point,” he said. “We cer­tain­ly pro­vide enablers for them … but they are the ones going through the door, they’re the ones doing the appre­hen­sions, the search­es, and all the rest of that.”

The Afghan reg­u­lar army forces are “gen­er­al­ly doing well,” he said. “Cer­tain­ly there’s a range of them,” he added, “all the way from still being estab­lished … to an actu­al inde­pen­dent infantry bat­tal­ion.”

The Afghan police forces, he said, “run the gamut from quite good to some that are sus­pect in the eyes of the local pop­u­la­tion.”

Petraeus said that dur­ing the attack on the Inter­con­ti­nen­tal Hotel in Kab­ul on June 28, Afghan forces respond­ed capa­bly and rel­a­tive­ly quick­ly in a sit­u­a­tion involv­ing a mas­sive struc­ture with hun­dreds of rooms, two huge wings and mul­ti­ple floors.

“It does take a few hours to alert a force, assem­ble it, issue its equip­ment, devel­op ini­tial plans, deploy to the loca­tion, get an update and then launch into oper­a­tions,” he said, “keep­ing in mind that the indi­vid­u­als they were going after, each of them, was wear­ing a sui­cide vest and heav­i­ly armed.”

Afghan forces accom­plished a “cred­i­ble and coura­geous per­for­mance” clear­ing the hotel of heav­i­ly armed attack­ers in sui­cide vests, he said.

NATO forces assist­ed dur­ing the attack, Petraeus said. “But it was the Afghan forces that died in this oper­a­tion,” he added. “There’s no bet­ter exam­ple … that they were the ones con­fronting these would-be sui­cide bombers, and ulti­mate­ly forc­ing the remain­ing hand­ful that remained up on to the roof, where they were killed by … oth­er forces.”

Petraeus will turn over com­mand July 18. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen has been nom­i­nat­ed for pro­mo­tion to gen­er­al and appoint­ment as Petraeus’ suc­ces­sor.

Petraeus will retire from the Army on Aug. 31 and assume his new duties as CIA direc­tor Sept. 6.

Petraeus told NATO TV he nev­er expect­ed to end his mil­i­tary career in Afghanistan.

“I thought I would end it as the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand,” he said. “This was unex­pect­ed. … We’ve jok­ing­ly said that I went to the White House for the month­ly Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil meet­ing on Afghanistan and Pak­istan with Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma, and came out with a new job.”

Serv­ing as NATO ISAF com­man­der was “an extra­or­di­nary priv­i­lege,” Petraeus said.

“There’s no greater hon­or, there’s also no greater respon­si­bil­i­ty, than that of com­mand,” he said. “I’ve had prob­a­bly more than my share of com­mands, espe­cial­ly as a gen­er­al offi­cer, and espe­cial­ly in some pret­ty impor­tant endeav­ors in com­bat.”

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

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