US general heads to Afghanistan to develop new strategy
With Gen. Stanley McChrystal on his way to Kabul, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus warned Thursday that the situation in Afghanistan is the worst since 2001.
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Gen. David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), warned Thursday that the past week's violence in Afghanistan was the worst since the NATO troops invaded the country in 2001. The new US commander in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is headed to Kabul to develop a new counterinsurgency strategy – likely drawing on the one General Petraeus implemented in Iraq, which dramatically increased security.
"There is no question that the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years and that there are difficult times ahead," said Gen. David Petraeus....
"The past week was the highest level of security incidents in Afghanistan's history, at least that post-liberation history," Petraeus said in a speech at the annual conference of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.
Petraeus's comments came as the United States is embarking on new strategy in Afghanistan, with increased troop levels and a focus on counterinsurgency tactics. Petraeus said America should draw on the lessons learned in Iraq.
President Barack Obama has approved a "surge" of some 20,000 US troops in Afghanistan, reminiscent of the troop surge that Petraeus oversaw while he was head of the US forces in Iraq. The Washington Post reports that Petraeus notes that the surge in Afghanistan will follow a different course than the surge in Iraq.
The strategy draws upon, but does not attempt to duplicate, lessons from the troop "surge" in Iraq, where attacks have dropped from 160 a day at the peak of the fighting in 2007 to about 10 to 15 a day during the past six months, he said.
In one significant difference, Petraeus said that in combating the largely rural insurgency of Afghanistan, it will not be possible for U.S. forces to move into neighborhoods the same way they did in Iraqi cities.
"You don't live among the people in Afghanistan," he said. "First of all, there's no empty houses. Second, the villages particularly in the rural areas tend to be small." Instead, he said, U.S. troops will establish outposts on high ground from which they can oversee nearby villages as well as roads leading in and out.
This approach, which Petraeus called both "culturally and operationally correct," will reduce the likelihood that the presence of U.S. forces will draw the fighting into rural communities, which would lead to more civilian casualties.