USA — Petraeus Calls Afghanistan a Test of Wills

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2010 — Afghanistan is a test of wills, and the ene­my has to know the Unit­ed States and its allies have the will to pre­vail, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.

The tes­ti­mo­ny was part of the con­fir­ma­tion process for Petraeus, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nee to replace Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal as com­man­der of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. 

The gen­er­al also has been nom­i­nat­ed to suc­ceed McChrys­tal as com­man­der of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, a posi­tion that requires a sep­a­rate con­fir­ma­tion process through NATO chan­nels. Petraeus cur­rent­ly is com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Command. 

The Unit­ed States has vital nation­al inter­ests in Afghanistan, Petraeus told the pan­el, not­ing that Oba­ma has said the Unit­ed States will not tol­er­ate a safe haven for ter­ror­ists who want to destroy Afghan secu­ri­ty from with­in and launch attacks against inno­cent men, women and chil­dren around the world. 

“In short, we can­not allow al-Qai­da or oth­er transna­tion­al extrem­ist ele­ments to once again estab­lish sanc­tu­ar­ies from which they can launch attacks on our home­land or on our allies,” the gen­er­al said. “Achiev­ing that objec­tive, how­ev­er, requires that we not only counter the resur­gent Tal­iban ele­ments who allowed such sanc­tu­ar­ies in the past. We must also help our Afghan part­ners devel­op their secu­ri­ty forces and gov­er­nance capac­i­ty so that they can, over time, take on the tasks of secur­ing their coun­try and see­ing to the needs of their people.” 

If con­firmed, Petraeus will com­mand almost 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and more than 50,000 ser­vice­mem­bers from 45 oth­er nations. 

The gen­er­al said he will work close­ly with civil­ian agen­cies to imple­ment a whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach to the sit­u­a­tion on the ground, as the cam­paign strat­e­gy in Afghanistan calls for a ful­ly inte­grat­ed civ­il-mil­i­tary effort. Fur­ther, he added, the plan calls for inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions from the Afghan gov­ern­ment and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces. 

As Cent­com com­man­der, Petraeus par­tic­i­pat­ed in form­ing the president’s strat­e­gy in Afghanistan. 

“I sup­port and agree with his new pol­i­cy,” the gen­er­al said. “Dur­ing its devel­op­ment, I offered my forth­right mil­i­tary advice, and I have assured the pres­i­dent that I will do the same as we con­duct assess­ments over the course of the months ahead. He, in turn, assured me that he expects and wants me to pro­vide that char­ac­ter of advice.” 

The gen­er­al said he sup­ports the need to inspire greater urgency on the Afghan government’s part, not­ing the policy’s intent to begin tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties to Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces in July 2011. 

“It is impor­tant to note the president’s reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the begin­ning of a process, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits and turns out the lights,” Petraeus said. “As he explained this past Sun­day in fact, we’ll need to pro­vide assis­tance to Afghanistan for a long time to come.” 

The gen­er­al said notable progress has tak­en place in Afghanistan already. The num­ber of civil­ian deaths due to coali­tion mil­i­tary oper­a­tions has dropped, and areas in Hel­mand province have been freed from the Tal­iban. He acknowl­edged that more remains to be done to secure the progress. 

A basic tenet of the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy is to secure the pop­u­la­tion. “Focus­ing on secur­ing the peo­ple does not, how­ev­er, mean that we don’t go after the ene­my,” Petraeus said. “In fact, pro­tect­ing the pop­u­la­tion inevitably requires killing, cap­tur­ing or turn­ing the insur­gents. Our forces have been doing that, and we will con­tin­ue to do that. In fact, our troop­ers and our Afghan part­ners have been very much tak­ing the fight to the ene­my in recent months.” 

The Tal­iban and their ter­ror­ist allies have paid a grave price since April, with more than 130 mid­dle- and senior-lev­el oper­a­tives being cap­tured or killed, and thou­sands of rank-and-file mem­bers tak­en off the battlefield. 

The gen­er­al not­ed that those gains have come at a cost for U.S. and allied forces. “I want to assure the moth­ers and fathers of those fight­ing in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imper­a­tive to bring all assets to bear to pro­tect our men and women in uni­form and the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces with whom ISAF troop­ers are fight­ing shoul­der to shoul­der,” he said. “Those on the ground must have all the sup­port they need when they are in a tough situation.” 

This is so impor­tant, he added, that he has dis­cussed it with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, Afghan Defense Min­is­ter Abdul War­dak, and Afghan Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Bis­mul­lah Khan. “And they are in full agree­ment with me on this,” Petraeus told the senators. 

The gen­er­al said he is “keen­ly aware of con­cerns” ser­vice­mem­bers have raised about the appli­ca­tion of rules of engage­ment and a tac­ti­cal direc­tive designed to min­i­mize the pos­si­bil­i­ty of inflict­ing civil­ian casu­al­ties. “They should know that I will look very hard at this issue,” he said. 

Devel­op­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces so they can take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their coun­try and pro­duce sus­tained suc­cess is “huge­ly impor­tant and huge­ly chal­leng­ing,” Petraeus said. 

“Indeed, help­ing to train and equip host-nation forces in the midst of an insur­gency is akin to build­ing an advanced air­craft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at,” he said. “There is noth­ing easy about it.” Progress in that regard has picked up since the train­ing effort in the coun­try has been over­hauled, he added, but more must be done for the trend to continue. 

“Fur­ther progress will take even greater part­ner­ing, addi­tion­al train­ing improve­ments, fuller man­ning of the train­ing and men­tor­ing mis­sions, and expand­ed pro­fes­sion­al edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties,” he said, “and ini­tia­tives are being pur­sued in each of these areas.” 

Petraeus said tough fight­ing will con­tin­ue in Afghanistan, not­ing that June has seen many NATO casualties. 

“Indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months,” he said. “As we take away the enemy’s safe havens and reduce the enemy’s free­dom of action, the insur­gents will fight back.” 

The gen­er­al praised the com­mit­ment of Amer­i­can troops in the country. 

“I’d like to once again note the extra­or­di­nary work being done by our troop­ers on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and else­where around the world,” he said. “Our young men and women tru­ly deserve the recog­ni­tion they have earned as America’s new great­est gen­er­a­tion. There is no ques­tion that they com­prise the finest, most com­bat-hard­ened mil­i­tary in our nation’s history. 

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

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