Petraeus Mounts Strategy Review
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Gen. David H. Petraeus has launched a major reassessment of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the surrounding region, while warning that the lack of development and the spiraling violence in Afghanistan will probably make it "the longest campaign of the long war."
The 100-day assessment will result in a new campaign plan for the Middle East and Central Asia, a region in which Petraeus will oversee the operations of more than 200,000 American troops as the new head of U.S. Central Command, beginning Oct. 31.
The review will formally begin next month, but experts and military officials involved said Petraeus is already focused on at least two major themes: government-led reconciliation of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the leveraging of diplomatic and economic initiatives with nearby countries that are influential in the war.
The review comes as Petraeus, who led a counterinsurgency effort credited with drastically reducing attack levels in Iraq, faces widespread expectations that he will find a way to arrest escalating violence and U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan, fueled by growing militant havens in Pakistan.
It also coincides with the Bush administration's own urgent reassessment of Afghanistan strategy amid pessimism that the situation there is rapidly deteriorating. Indeed, some senior administration officials have expressed concern that Petraeus is casting his net too widely with a regional review at a time when Afghanistan and western Pakistan desperately need rescuing.
In appearances this month in Washington, however, Petraeus has sought to manage expectations of any repeat of the Iraq performance in Afghanistan -- often suggested by Republican presidential candidate John McCain -- stressing that Afghanistan is not Iraq, and that while some concepts are "transplantable," Afghanistan has daunting challenges likely to require a far lengthier effort.
"The effort in Afghanistan is going to be the longest campaign of the long war," Petraeus said in a meeting yesterday with Washington Post reporters and editors.
Parts of Afghanistan have "actually been spiraling downward throughout the course of this year," Petraeus said last week at the Heritage Foundation. "The biggest lesson of counterinsurgency is that every situation is unique. You have to be very careful to have that nuanced understanding . . . of the circumstances on the ground," he said.
Petraeus is recruiting a brain trust of advisers, much as he did for Iraq, taking the studious approach that has become the hallmark of the four-star general who holds a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University.
Petraeus's Joint Strategic Assessment Team -- led by a longtime adviser, Col. H.R. McMaster, and with the Central Command deputy, Maj. Gen. John Allen, as executive director -- is reaching out to handpicked experts as well as State Department, Pentagon and other civilian and military officials with experience in the region.
The team will comprise about 100 people, organized initially into six subregional teams, tasked with investigating the root causes of insecurity in the region with the goal of finding solutions that integrate military action, diplomacy and development work.
Afghanistan and Pakistan experts consulted so far include Shuja Nawaz, author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within," whom Petraeus consulted during a private lunch in Washington last week, and Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos," a sobering look at Afghanistan that officials say Petraeus has read.