Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned of a bloody civil war and Taliban takeover if the United States fails there. He said the Taliban is “much more responsible” for civilian casualties than U.S. forces are. He said he supports President Obama’s timetable for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. forces in July 2011. He said it was “premature to have any kind of assessment at this juncture,” but he will give his “best military advice” to the president ahead of the deadline, which could include advising that the drawdown not begin in July. He said any withdrawal will be “conditions-based”…He said there is no “cutoff point” at which the United States will abandon Karzai as a partner in the war effort.
Interesting, to see the points where Petraeus dovetails with the party line but also inserts his points of contention. I maintained, well before the debacle of Rollingstan, that the ISAF commander in charge of Afghanistan at the time of the administration’s deadline would softpedal any withdrawal. Watching Gates and Clinton do the hand-waving dance immediately after Obama’s West Point speech confirmed that, and so it’s no surprise to me that Petraeus is already laying the groundwork. (For a handy primer on combat vs. non-combat troops, check out this article on the withdrawal from Iraq by Josh Keating with Mike Few at Foreign Policy.)
Petraeus is also a hot topic over at the New York Times.
In an hourlong interview with The New York Times, the general argued against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011, the date set by President Obama to begin at least a gradual reduction of the 100,000 troops on the ground. General Petraeus said that it was only in the last few weeks that the war plan had been fine-tuned and given the resources that it required. “For the first time,” he said, “we will have what we have been working to put in place for the last year and a half…The president didn’t send me over here to seek a graceful exit,” General Petraeus said at his office at NATO headquarters in downtown Kabul. “My marching orders are to do all that is humanly possible to help us achieve our objectives.”
I’m egregiously smushing together the two quotes, apologies to Filkins. I think, though, that these comments run directly counter to the growing view that Afghanistan is not a war that can be won. If ISAF only just got its counterinsurgency ducks in a row, it should be no surprise that the brass is looking to build more time into their endeavor. From that perspective, they’ve just gotten started, after all.
All this raises some interesting questions about how the rest of the year will play out. Will opposition grow? Will the counterinsurgency program really start to kick in and show the results the administration desperately wants it to show? Can Petraeus turn the tide of insurgency and public opinion all in one?
P.S. Gates isn’t announcing his retirement, kthxbai.