Petraeus Sharpens Afghan Strategy - Wall Street journal
Petraeus Sharpens Afghan Strategy
By JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—Gen. David Petraeus plans to ramp up the U.S. military's troop-intensive strategy in Afghanistan, according to some senior military officials, who have concluded that setbacks in the war effort this year weren't the result of the strategy, but of flaws in how it has been implemented.
The officials said Gen. Petraeus, who took over as allied commander in Afghanistan this month and is conducting a review of the war, intends to draw on many of the same tactics he implemented to turn around the war in Iraq—and which his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, introduced in Afghanistan.
But the officials said Gen. McChrystal put too much attention on hunting down Taliban leaders, at the expense of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, which focuses on protecting civilians and bolstering popular support for the government. Supporters of Gen. McChrystal dispute that assessment, dismissing any notion there were flaws in how he fought the war.
Gen. Petraeus's determination to intensify a strategy focused on driving a wedge between the Taliban and the Afghan people could be tricky to pull off, given the mounting political pressure in the U.S. to show results in the nearly nine-year war, and to begin drawing down troops next year.
Gen. McChrystal was fired last month by President Barack Obama after the general and his staff made disparaging comments about senior civilian officials in a magazine article. When announcing the change in command, Mr. Obama praised Gen. McChrystal's work and said the appointment of Gen. Petraeus, who wrote the army manual on counterinsurgency, would guarantee that the strategy would continue uninterrupted.
Gen. Petraeus is expected to make several more moves to retool the strategy, according to people familiar with the situation. Such moves are expected to include a greater focus on how Afghanistan's security forces are being trained and how to make the Afghan people feel safe, they said, without offering details.
Under Gen. Petraeus, the coming offensive in the southern city of Kandahar will remain the primary effort for international forces, military officials said. But he is also expected to highlight other operations that are showing success, particularly the campaign against the Haqqani terror network in eastern Afghanistan.
Some in the White House advocate a pared-down approach that requires fewer troops and greater emphasis on drone attacks on insurgent leaders. These officials would like to see an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops.
During the Iraq surge, Gen. Petraeus proved adept at parrying suggestions for a rapid withdrawal and won time to show his strategy could work.
He is again under pressure to show quick progress. When the Obama administration committed earlier this year to a 30,000-troop surge to underpin the counterinsurgency strategy, it said it would review the effort in December—a tight timeline that included a July 2011 date for the beginning of troop withdrawals.
Gen. Petraeus may have less time. Officials say he is under pressure to demonstrate results ahead of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization conference in Portugal in November. Gen. Petraeus declined to comment.
Gen. Petraeus has notched some early successes, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai's endorsement of a plan to establish local village defense forces—an initiative he had long opposed, fearing such initiatives would create militias outside of his control.
Supporters of Gen. McChrystal point out that the groundwork for the initiative was laid by Gen. McChrystal.
Gen. Petraeus has called on some of the outside advisers who helped him develop the surge strategy in Iraq to make recommendations on a renewed campaign in Afghanistan, according to military officials.
Those advisers include Stephen Biddle, a national-security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, and Kimberly Kagan, who heads the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
People close to Gen. Petraeus said he is unlikely to try to persuade the Obama administration to back off its promise to begin drawing down troops in July 2011. But they do expect him to privately push for troops to be removed slowly, along a timetable that keeps a large force in Afghanistan.
"I think Gen. Petraeus will talk again about putting more time on the Washington clock," said Peter Mansoor, who served as Gen. Petraeus's executive officer in Iraq and is now a professor at the Ohio State University. "I think we have more time than we think in Afghanistan."
An effective counterinsurgency strategy can take years, and it remains unclear whether Gen. Petraeus' approach will work in Afghanistan, where volatile tribal politics, a lack of infrastructure and rudimentary local security forces pose significant challenges.
Under Gen. McChrystal, much of the public attention this year was on the operation in Marjah, the first major offensive of the surge, where officials promised they would deliver a "government-in-a-box."
But months after American forces retook the center of Marjah, the U.S. has struggled to help the Afghan government deliver services because of problems with security and with the government's effectiveness.
Some government officials and military analysts view the emphasis placed on Marjah as a strategic mistake. Rather than demonstrating the reach of the Afghan government, it showed the limits, they say.
"Marjah is not critical terrain, it is not a key population center," said Jeffrey Dressler, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. "You had to clear Marjah out, but it was not the place to implement a district governance plan."
Supporters of Gen. McChrystal argue it is too early to judge the success of how he implemented the counterinsurgency strategy. They note he built a counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan where none existed, and won widespread support among the Afghan public for his limits on the use of airpower to avoid civilian casualties.
"The hard work was done by Gen. McChrystal," said a senior military officer who has served in Afghanistan. "Let's give credit to the right people." A representative for Gen. McChrystal said he isn't giving interviews.
Gen. McChrystal was a fierce advocate of a robust counterinsurgency strategy, and dismissed the efficacy of a counterterrorism strategy focused solely on killing insurgent leaders.
Yet some senior military officials supportive of Gen. Petraeus's appointment say that under Gen. McChrystal, allied forces were too focused on killing insurgents and overestimated the effect such operations would have on the war effort.
Such missions were an expertise of Gen. McChrystal's, who honed his reputation in Iraq overseeing an effective group of "hunter-killer" teams Allied forces have had some successes this year with those operations.
Some officers said they thought eliminating insurgent leaders would weaken the Taliban and make them more willing to negotiate. That, so far, hasn't come to pass.
The senior military officer who served in Afghanistan said in support of Gen. McChrystal that the Special Operations command removed a host of important shadow governors and Taliban officials, and said the full benefits of those raids aren't yet public.
People close to Gen. Petraeus said Special Operations missions won't be pared back under his revised strategy.
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