U.S. military leaders inherited a faulty strategy for the war in Afghanistan at the end of the Bush administration and are still working to “refine the concepts,” the U.S. commander said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
In his first interview since taking over as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus told NBC’s David Gregory that when “a lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and started looking intently at Afghanistan, we realized that we did not have the organizations that are required for the conduct and the comprehensive civil/military counterinsurgency campaign.”
In the interview, which was conducted last week in Kabul and aired Sunday, Petraeus did not specifically criticize former President George W. Bush, who promoted him to head of U.S. Central Command in April 2008. But the timetable he described left little doubt that he believed the Bush administration inadequately laid the groundwork for integrating Afghan leaders into the allied military structure.
“Over the last 18 months or so” — Bush left the White House 18 months ago — “what we’ve sought to do in Afghanistan is to get the inputs right for the first time,” Petraeus said. “We needed to refine the concepts — to build, in some cases, concepts that didn’t exist” seven years after the Afghan war began in October 2001.
One of those concepts, he said, is whether to include former anti-U.S. insurgents into Afghanistan’s post-war civil structure.
“If you don’t want to have to kill or capture every bad guy in the country, you have to reintegrate those who are willing to be reconciled and become part of the solution instead of the continuing part of the problem,” he said.
Another is the proper level of U.S. commitment, he said — “above all the resources.”
“By the end of August, of course, we will have nearly tripled the number of U.S. forces on the ground” since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.
July 2011 deadline could be flexible
Petraeus also signaled that Obama’s deadline of next July to begin pulling back from the battlefield might not be set in stone and said that he would not hesitate to tell the president if he concluded that the deadline was unrealistic.
While Obama has made it “very clear” that he wants to begin turning over security operations to Afghan forces in 11 months, Petraeus stressed that he was intent on a “responsible drawdown of our forces,” which he said meant “this is a date when a process begins that is conditions-based.”
Petraeus assumed command in Afghanistan after Gen. Stanley McChrystal was removed because of remarks by his staff in a magazine interview that revealed significant disagreement with Obama’s leadership of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the interview airing Sunday, he said he “certainly” would have no reluctance to tell Obama if he believed that the president’s policy was not working and the deadline should be dropped.
“I’m not bowed over by the knowledge that July 2011 is out there,” he said.
The deadline does, however, help by providing a “message of increased urgency” to allied forces and Afghan leaders, Petraeus said.
“This has been going on for some nine years or so. There is understandable concern — in some cases, frustration,” he said.
“We’ve got to really put our shoulders to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved,” he said, not just to the American people but also to “the citizens of all the 47 or so troop-contributing nations and of other nations who are contributing money and not forces.”