Afghanistan war: Top three challenges facing General Petraeus
Topping General Petraeus' to-do list in the Afghanistan war: Making his own counterinsurgency strategy work in Afghanistan where General McChrystal could not.
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander viewed by some in Washington as the man who single-handedly turned around the Iraq war, will be taking on a bigger challenge than the one he confronted at the dawn of the Iraq surge in 2007.Skip to next paragraph
He’ll be in charge of a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan that’s just getting under way, much as he was in Iraq. But he’s starting almost nine years into this current war, rather than three years in as he did in Iraq. That means he faces more entrenched power players. Historically, the longer an army takes to shift to counterinsurgency strategy, the lower the odds are of success, as a study found last year. And sustaining the Afghanistan war – now costing over $70 billion a year – is taking its toll on American and Afghan public support. [Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the cost of the war.]
The remarks that Gen. Stanley McChrystal made to Rolling Stone magazine are the reason that Petraeus is replacing him, but it’s also the case that the war effort and the COIN strategy has not been going well.
General McChrystal boasted of success ahead of an operation in the town of Marjah, but afterward struggled to deliver the kind of governance needed to prevent the Taliban from coming back. Before McChrystal's ouster, war-planners indefinitely postponed a major offensive due to start this month in the southern province of Kandahar in order to rethink their approach.
Meanwhile, the country remains as violent as ever. With six days left in the month, June 2010 is already officially the deadliest for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the war began, with 79 casualties.
With Petraeus expected to sail through congressional confirmation hearings early next week, what are some of the key challenges he will face when he takes charge in Kabul?
Making COIN work
In US military circles, Petraeus is the godfather of COIN. The counterinsurgency approach hinges on protecting local populations from insurgents as much, or more than, chasing the enemy. Also crucial is quickly demonstrating the fruits of peace after groups like the Taliban are cleared from an area by bringing in capable government and development projects.