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)