Petraeus: 'We're doing everything we can to achieve progress'

Sunday, August 15, 2010; 12:00 PM

Excerpts from Washington Post associate editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran's interview of U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in his office at the NATO International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul:

On what he has learned about the conflict in his first weeks on the ground that he didn't know before assuming command here:

It's achieving a more granular understanding of some aspects of the mission, as is always the case when you're living it instead of overseeing it. . . . I think again that the general approach here was sound, and is sound. As with any new commander there will be refinements, and we've already undertaken a few of those, but I don't think anything of enormous drama -- nothing very dramatic. . . .

What we've been doing over the course of the last 18 months now is trying to get the inputs right in Afghanistan. And by that, I mean to get the structures in place that are needed for a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign, the people in place to lead those organizations, and General Stan McChrystal arguably did more than anyone else over the last year or so to help get the inputs right, to make sure the big ideas are correct -- that we have the right concepts and plans, and then to ensure the level of resources is adequate to carry out those plans under these leaders in charge of these organizations. . . .

Then what you have to do is to start turning inputs into output. Obviously as we have worked to finalize to get the inputs right, we have been working on outputs.

Our initial focus has been on six central districts of Helmand [province]. There has been progress there. I've been there. I've walked the streets of a number of different districts. I've been to the markets. I've met with the Afghan leaders. Certainly the Taliban has fought back. When you take away Marja, a major command and control headquarters, not just for the Taliban but also for the illegal narcotics industry bosses, they're going to fight back. And that has been the case. But we have continued to push out the security bubble. Those six central districts are a good bit more secure than they were six months ago . . . but it's a tough fight.

On whether counterinsurgency strategy can work Afghanistan:

I think we're seeing the early stages of a populationcentric, comprehensive, civil-military, counterinsurgency effort. We are seeing the early results of the implementation of that kind approach. The enemy has shown himself to be resilient. The enemy does fight back. He is trying, in his assessment, to outlast us. And our task obviously is to produce the kind of progress that can show the contributing nations -- we're up to 47 -- that can show the 47 ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] nations that the investment they've made is producing a dividend, to show the Afghan people that their forces and their ISAF partners are improving security for them over them, even though the Taliban are fighting back.

In fighting back, though, the Taliban is making some significant mistakes. In Herat, they flogged a pregnant woman and then assassinated her. They have kidnapped and intimidated a handful of political candidates in a country that . . . wants to exercise its right to vote. . . . The latest polls show there is no great love lost for the Taliban. There is still a memory of them. Although if there is predatory governance in certain areas, then that obviously can be a cause for the Taliban. And so this is why President [Hamid] Karzai has said there are three enemies of Afghanistan: There are the insurgents -- there is Haqqani and the Taliban and others -- there's insufficient governance that's a product of 30 years of war and the lack of sufficient of human capital, and then the third category he has identified is corrupt or predatory governance.

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