The Blog

Petraeus Outlines Afghanistan Strategy

10:31 AM, Feb 9, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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First and foremost, our forces and those of our Afghan partners have to strive to secure and serve the population. We have to recognize that the Afghan people are the decisive "terrain." And together with our Afghan partners, we have to work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support, and to facilitate the provision of basic services, the development of the Afghan Security Forces in the area, the promotion of local economic development, and the establishment of governance that includes links to the traditional leaders in society and is viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the people.

Securing and serving the people requires that our forces be good neighbors. While it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, it is necessary to locate Afghan and ISAF forces where they can establish a persistent security presence. You can't commute to work in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Positioning outposts and patrol bases, then, requires careful thought, consultation with local leaders, and the establishment of good local relationships to be effective.

Positioning near those we and our Afghan partners are helping to secure also enables us to understand the neighborhood. A nuanced appreciation of the local situation is essential. Leaders and troopers have to understand the tribal structures, the power brokers, the good guys and the bad guys, local cultures and history, and how systems are supposed to work and do work. This requires listening and being respectful of local elders and mullahs, and farmers and shopkeepers - and it also requires, of course, many cups of tea.

It is also essential that we achieve unity of effort, that we coordinate and synchronize the actions of all ISAF and Afghan forces -- and those of our Pakistani partners across the border -- and that we do the same with the actions of our embassy and international partners, our Afghan counterparts, local governmental leaders, and international and non-governmental organizations. Working to a common purpose is essential in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations.

We also, in support of and in coordination with our Afghan partners, need to help promote local reconciliation, although this has to be done very carefully and in accordance with the principles established in the Afghan Constitution. In concert with and in support of our Afghan partners, we need to identify and separate the "irreconcilables" from the "reconcilables, striving to create the conditions that can make the reconcilables part of the solution, even as we kill, capture, or drive out the irreconcilables. In fact, programs already exist in this area and careful application of them will be essential in the effort to fracture and break off elements of the insurgency in order to get various groups to put down their weapons and support the legitimate constitution of Afghanistan.

Having said that, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly and tenaciously. True irreconcilables, again, must be killed, captured, or driven out of the area. And we cannot shrink from that any more than we can shrink from being willing to support Afghan reconciliation with those elements that show a willingness to reject the insurgents and help Afghan and ISAF forces.

To ensure that the gains achieved endure, ISAF and Afghan forces have to hold areas that have been cleared. Once we fight to clear and secure an area, we must ensure that it is retained. The people - and local security forces - need to know that we will not abandon them. Additionally, we should look for ways to give local citizens a stake in the success of the local security effort and in the success of the new Afghanistan more broadly as well. To this end, a reformed, capable Afghan National Police force - with the necessary support from the international community and the alliance - is imperative to ensuring the ability to protect the population. And the new Afghan Population Protection Program announced by MOI Atmar holds considerable promise and deserves our support as well.

On a related note, to help increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government, we need to help our Afghan partners give the people a reason to support the government and their local authorities. This includes helping enable Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. And on a related note, given the importance of Afghan solutions and governance being viewed as legitimate by the people and in view of allegations of corruption, such efforts likely should feature support for what might be called an "Afghan accountability offensive" as well. That will be an important effort.

In all that we do as we perform various missions, we need to live our values. While our forces should not hesitate to engage and destroy an enemy, our troopers must also stay true to the values we hold dear. This is, after all, an important element that distinguishes us from the enemy, and it manifests itself in many ways, including making determined efforts to reduce to the absolute minimum civilian casualties - an effort furthered significantly by the tactical direction and partnering initiatives developed by GEN McKiernan with our Afghan counterparts.

We also must strive to be first with the truth. We need to beat the insurgents and extremists to the headlines and to pre-empt rumors. We can do that by getting accurate information to the chain of command, to our Afghan partners, and to the press as soon as is possible. Integrity is critical to this fight. Thus, when situations are bad, we should freely acknowledge that fact and avoid temptations to spin. Rather, we should describe the setbacks and failures we suffer and then state what we've learned from them and how we'll adjust to reduce the chances of similar events in the future.

Finally, we always must strive to learn and adapt. The situation in Afghanistan has changed significantly in the past several years and it continues to evolve. This makes it incumbent on us to assess the situation continually and to adjust our plans, operations, and tactics as required. We should share good ideas and best practices, but we also should never forget that what works in an area today may not work there tomorrow, and that what works in one area may not work in another.

IT WILL GET HARDER BEFORE IT GETS EASIER
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate the key points I've sought to make. We have a hugely important interest in ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanctuary for trans-national terrorists. Achieving that core objective, in turn, requires the accomplishment of several other significant tasks. Although there have been impressive achievements in Afghanistan since 2001, the security situation has deteriorated markedly in certain areas in the past two years. Reversing that trend is necessary to improve security for the population, to permit the conduct of free and fair elections in August, and to enable progress in other important areas. Achieving security improvements will require more ISAF and Afghan security forces of all types - combat, combat support, logistics, trainers and advisors, special operations, and so on. Some additional forces are already deploying, further increases have been ordered or pledged, and more are under discussion. To be effective, the additional military forces will need to be employed in accordance with counterinsurgency concepts applied by leaders who have a nuanced understanding of their areas of operation. And to complement and capitalize on the increased military resources, more civilian assets, adequate financial resources, close civil-military cooperation, and a comprehensive approach that encompasses regional states will be necessary. None of this will be easy. Indeed, as Vice President Biden observed recently, Afghanistan likely will get harder before it gets easier. And sustained progress will require sustained commitment. But, again, our objectives are of enormous importance, a significant opportunity is at hand, and we all need to summon the will and the resources necessary to make the most of it. Thank you very much.