Petraeus Explains Afghanistan Strategy

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010 — Progress in Afghanistan has been faster than expect­ed in some respects, and not as far along in oth­ers, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said here today.

Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Army Gen. David H Petraeus, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, depart the force’s head­quar­ters in Kab­ul, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010. Mullen made a short stop in the Afghan cap­i­tal to address Com­bined Joint Inter­a­gency Task Force 435 and receive an oper­a­tional update from Petraeus.
DoD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

Petraeus, the com­man­der of U.S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan, spoke to reporters trav­el­ing with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before attend­ing a work­ing lunch with the admi­ral.

The progress achieved so far in Afghanistan is “about stan­dard for any one of these kinds of delib­er­ate cam­paigns,” Petraeus said.

The cur­rent Afghanistan strat­e­gy has been in the mak­ing since 2008, the gen­er­al said, when a U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand assess­ment and sub­se­quent pol­i­cy reviews revealed that fac­tors he called “the inputs” of the Afghanistan mis­sion weren’t right. New orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures and some new lead­ers were nec­es­sary, he explained, and con­cepts and approach­es need­ed refine­ment. And, he added, insuf­fi­cient resources had been applied to the effort at that time.

Petraeus – who com­mand­ed U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand before com­ing to Afghanistan — cred­it­ed his pre­de­ces­sor, Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, with hav­ing “a huge amount to do with get­ting the inputs right, obvi­ous­ly.”

After tak­ing com­mand in Afghanistan in July, Petraeus said he looked at var­i­ous plans and direc­tives, includ­ing a con­tro­ver­sial tac­ti­cal direc­tive that McChrys­tal had put in place to min­i­mize the like­li­hood of civil­ian casu­al­ties.

“Some of these I’ve revised to vary­ing degrees,” Petraeus said. “I put out my own coun­terin­sur­gency guid­ance, and we refined the tac­ti­cal direc­tive. The most sig­nif­i­cant change to the tac­ti­cal direc­tive, by the way, was to state in it that no one could add fur­ther restric­tions to what was in that direc­tive.

“That was what the biggest con­cern was,” he con­tin­ued. “I think the direc­tive was fun­da­men­tal­ly sound. We made some tweaks to it based on requests from com­man­ders in some of the clas­si­fied por­tions … that were not huge.”

The prob­lem, the gen­er­al said, was that extra restric­tions had been added in a hand­ful of units as the direc­tive made its way down the chain of com­mand. Though the prac­tice wasn’t wide­spread, he added, a major mythol­o­gy grew from it that the direc­tive was tying forces’ hands behind their backs.

“We have to — absolute­ly must – remain com­mit­ted to reduc­ing the loss of inno­cent civil­ian life to an absolute min­i­mum in the con­duct of our oper­a­tions,” he said. “In fact, [the Unit­ed Nations Mis­sion in Afghanistan] actu­al­ly rec­og­nized recent­ly in a report that even as we have tripled the num­ber of U.S. forces on the ground, the num­ber of civil­ian casu­al­ties has gone down by 30 per­cent, which is a pret­ty extra­or­di­nary achieve­ment, frankly, and some­thing we must stay com­mit­ted to.”

The biggest issue, Petraeus said, was the resources devot­ed to the effort in Afghanistan. In Jan­u­ary 2009, he said, U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan num­bered rough­ly 30,000, and that num­ber soon will be more than 98,000. The num­ber of civil­ians has been tripled, he added, and fund­ing has been pro­vid­ed for 100,000 addi­tion­al Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. “What that is enabling us to do for the first time here is to car­ry out a com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign,” Petraeus said.

Thanks to more Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force troops and Afghan spe­cial oper­a­tions forces and enablers, as well as an effort that start­ed last fall to pro­vide the infra­struc­ture to accom­mo­date them, spe­cial mis­sion ele­ment forces now are oper­at­ing at a high tem­po, Petraeus said. For exam­ple, he said, one of three spe­cial oper­a­tions units con­duct­ed eight oper­a­tions over the pre­vi­ous 24 hours, killing one tar­get­ed indi­vid­ual and detain­ing three oth­ers, with con­fir­ma­tion still pend­ing on whether four oth­er peo­ple detained were among the tar­gets of the oper­a­tions.

By com­par­i­son, Petraeus said, spe­cial oper­a­tions units dur­ing the height of the troop surge in Iraq con­duct­ed about 10 intel­li­gence-dri­ven tar­get­ed oper­a­tions per day. In Afghanistan today, 30 such oper­a­tions take place on any giv­en day.

ISAF and Afghan spe­cial oper­a­tions forces have con­duct­ed more than 4,000 kinet­ic oper­a­tions over the last 90 days, the gen­er­al said, result­ing in 235 insur­gent lead­ers killed or cap­tured and 1,066 rank-and-file insur­gents killed and 1,673 cap­tured.

But while mil­i­tary action is nec­es­sary, the gen­er­al said, it’s not suf­fi­cient for suc­cess. Over the same peri­od, he said, the spe­cial oper­a­tions forces also have con­duct­ed more than 1,200 “pop­u­la­tion-cen­tric” oper­a­tions, such as key leader engage­ments and med­ical exer­cis­es, in Afghan com­mu­ni­ties.

With­out a strat­e­gy that calls for first clear­ing an area of insur­gents and then hold­ing and rebuild­ing that area, the gen­er­al said, the insur­gents sim­ply reclaim the area as a safe haven.

“So that’s where con­ven­tion­al forces come in, of course,” Petraeus said, “and the sub­stan­tial increase in those and in Afghan forces has been of enor­mous help.”

But con­duct­ing a secu­ri­ty cam­paign that seeks to take safe havens and sanc­tu­ar­ies from the ene­my, he said, means the ene­my will fight back and vio­lence goes up.

“Then it takes a while before you get suf­fi­cient secu­ri­ty as a foun­da­tion for the estab­lish­ment of gov­er­nance where before it didn’t exist,” Petraeus said, “and that was the case in many of the cen­tral dis­tricts of Hel­mand province. And then, of course, that has to be solid­i­fied and some eco­nom­ic progress has to take place before you actu­al­ly have some pop­u­lar con­fi­dence that all of this is going to prove sus­tain­able.”

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

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