By Kyle Flynn Best Defense Special Operations Correspondent The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a Military Strategy Forum on Thursday, January 21 with General David Petraeus. The formerly famous face of the Iraq surge led a discussion with the audience on a broad range of CENTCOM-related issues including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and ...
By Kyle Flynn
By Kyle Flynn
Best Defense Special Operations Correspondent
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a Military Strategy Forum on Thursday, January 21 with General David Petraeus. The formerly famous face of the Iraq surge led a discussion with the audience on a broad range of CENTCOM-related issues including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Pakistan.
Here is what was on his mind:
- To be sure, the 18-month Afghan surge timeframe is flexible. Petraeus quickly rejected the notion that U.S. forces would begin an unconditional withdrawal in August 2011. Instead, U.S. forces hope to "start a transition that is conditions-based of tasks from our forces to Afghan forces, again, in areas where those forces and the situation allow it."
- Recent agreement between the Afghan government and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) sets Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) end-strength at 305,000 by October 2011. This is up from the current level of 200,000. Petraeus also noted a major upswing in ANSF recruitment in the month of December.
- General McChrystal’s tactical guidance on reducing civilian casualties is supposedly working. While far too many Afghan civilians are still being killed, most of last year’s civilian casualties were caused by insurgents rather than ISAF.
- All surge forces except a division headquarters will be on the ground by the end of August 2011.
- Like in Iraq, there are two clocks to consider: one in Washington and one in Kabul. In order to achieve success, we have to show progress to both the American and Afghan people. Ironically, Petraeus stated that "it is possible to demonstrate progress…but you’re not going to turn Afghanistan."
- Due to Afghanistan’s lack of infrastructure, an enormous building boom is taking place throughout the country. Petraeus’ agrees that this may be "the largest building boom in Afghanistan since Alexander built Kandahar."
- Logistical miracle with supplies moving through Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even a route that starts in Iraq, goes up through Turkey and Azerbaijan, then crosses two bodies of water to Kazakhstan, and ultimately down through Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.
- Two Afghans, the Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak and General Karimi made it through U.S. Army Ranger School thirty years ago; meanwhile, there was a twelve year time period when the U.S. did not allow Pakistani officers to attend our military education and training schools.
- DOD is disturbed by the recent discovery of references to biblical verses found on the weapon sites of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Political situation in Iraq recently exacerbated by the Iraqi Accountability and Justice Committee’s decision to publish a list of over 500 individuals with alleged links to the former Ba’ath party. As of now, these individuals are disqualified from participating as candidates in the upcoming elections.
- Although Yemen has been on CENTCOM’s radar for years, the decision by al-Qaida’s senior leadership in Pakistan to rebrand its Yemen affiliate "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" demanded a closer look from the U.S. intelligence community. If you missed Petraeus’ recent press conference on the future U.S.-Yemen security arrangement, you can catch it here.
- Given their limited resources, Pakistan’s Army has conducted "impressive" operations to confront the Taliban during the last year: in the Swat Valley; the Malakand Division of the Northwest Frontier Province; Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas; and most recently South Waziristan. Petraeus notes a "true sea change in Pakistani public opinion, the approach of the political leadership and even that of the clerics, to recognize that certain extremist groups…were really threatening the very existence of Pakistan."
- Contrary to popular opinion, Petraeus believes that civil-military relations "are very good right now, actually." He believes that Afghan debate sharpened the military’s focus.
- Building trust and finding common ground with Pakistan remains a critical issue.
Given the rough shape of the ANSF, the continuous unraveling of Iraq, and the sanctuary afforded to extremists in Pakistan, I left the discussion contemplating the amount of spin that I had just digested. Even with Petraeus’ qualified optimism of Afghanistan, it is hard to imagine anything other than a population-centric slog over the next few years. Whether it will be worth the costs in blood and treasure remains unclear. Nevertheless, I am grateful that this man is charged with the task of overseeing CENTCOMS twenty country area of responsibility.
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