Gen. David Petraeus takes over in Afghanistan: Will it make a difference?
Gen. David Petraeus, who replaced ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is a widely respected officer who wrote the Army's counterinsurgency manual and helped craft US policy in Afghanistan.
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“A year ago, close air support was a leading cause of civilian casualties, and we focused on that. And today it’s down, and Afghans see that,” said McChrystal at a June 10 roundtable discussion on the war.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Controversial US Generals
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McChrystal’s approach was not all peace meetings with local elders, however. At the roundtable he said that special operations forces in Afghanistan have tripled over the past year.
“In the past 90 days we’ve captured or killed 121 Taliban leaders around the country,” he said. “Now even in a population-centric [counterinsurgency] campaign you must ... target key enemy leaders.”
The strategic priority of the US Afghanistan policy is the development of the Afghan national army and police to the point where they can take control of their own country, McChrystal told reporters in May during a visit to the White House briefing room. The operational priority is securing southern Afghanistan, an area that includes Kandahar, the spiritual center of the Taliban, and Helmand, an economic wellspring for the insurgents.
Petraeus helped craft Afghanistan strategy
All of this will almost certainly continue under Gen. Petraeus, along with the surge of an additional 30,000 troops, all aimed at stabilizing the country enough to allow Obama to consider beginning troop withdrawals in July 2011. After all, Petraeus, as McChrystal’s boss, helped conceive of the strategy and draw up plans for its implementation. Yet as Petraeus himself cautioned in a congressional appearance this month, the way ahead remains rocky.
“None of this is easy or without considerable challenges,” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 15.
Violence is up, the Afghan police and army remain question marks, Afghan president Hamid Karzai is seen by much of the population as corrupt, and US officials have continued to quarrel among themselves about the conduct of the Afghan operation – and whether it is even something that is crucial to US national security.
“The US has no enduring reason to maintain a strategic presence in Afghanistan or Central Asia. It has far more important strategic priorities in virtually every other part of the world,” said Anthony Cordesman, an expert on strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a recent report that examined the case for the Afghan war.
IN PICTURES: Controversial American generals