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6 Ways Petraeus Could Turn Around Afghanistan

The general faces a tough mission

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Debate is still raging over whether President Obama was right to dismiss General Stanley McChrystal from his duty as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and replace him with General David Petraeus, the current chief of Central Command. But for Petraeus and the 120,000 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, the politics probably seem far less important than the question of how to find success in Afghanistan. The war effort has struggled of late, with the assaults in Marjah and Kandahar returning less favorable results than hoped. Here are the ideas for how Petraeus can turn it around.

  • Build Consensus in DC The New York Times' Dexter Filkins and Alissa Rubins write, "Perhaps General Petraeus's toughest challenge will be to unify a fractious team of senior officials in the Obama administration who hold sharply differing views of how the war in Afghanistan should be fought. As the head of the United States Central Command, which oversees all military forces in the Middle East, General Petraeus has built a close relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well with Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for the region."
  • More Than Just Counterinsurgency Time's Joe Klein says counterinsurgency "was not the only thing that worked in Iraq. Petraeus' decision to purchase the Sunni tribes in Anwar province -- the Bush Administration had considered tribes "part of the past" until then -- undermined the insurgency and separated the professional, al-Qaeda terrorists from the indigenous population. Most important was the untold story of the spectacular success that the special-operations forces led by McChrystal suddenly began to have in rooting out the bad guys. ... The success in Iraq was attributable to what the military calls full-spectrum warfare, the use of all the tools in its kit, but it was COIN that emerged as the headliner -- an oversimplification that has had dire ramifications in Afghanistan."
  • Don't Force Early Withdrawal Former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali writes, "Afghans aren't likely to worry about the command change since it will not significantly affect the ISAF Command. What concerns most people is whether the U.S. forces will stay in Afghanistan long enough to allow the country to build its own capacity to respond to security and governance challenges. The specter of an early U.S. military draw down is the strongest factor that shapes the behavior of the insurgents, the Afghan public and regional powers."
  • ...But Don't Stay Forever The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran cautions, "in turning to the nation's most prominent general, Obama has embraced a commander who may become a formidable advocate for slowing, or arresting outright, the pace of troop reductions next summer. ... Petraeus, who initially resisted the size and speed of a drawdown in Iraq, also minimized the importance of an end-of-year review of the Afghan war that Obama has described as crucial to assessing its progress and whether adjustments need to be made in the strategy."
  • Work Carefully With Your 'Allies' Former McChrystal adviser Andrew Exum warns, "unlike in Iraq, he is liable to find not only the Taliban but also his nominal allies threatening progress every step of the way." Exum explains, "Petraeus will quickly discover that while challenging the organization culture of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps was difficult, challenging the organizational cultures of the 38 nations that contribute to the International Security and Assistance Force (I.S.A.F.) in Afghanistan is orders of magnitude more complicated."
  • Will He Return the Air War? Wired's Noah Shachtman writes, "Most famously and dramatically, McChrystal severely restricted the use of air power -- America's biggest technological advantage in the war. The bombs were causing too many civilian casualties, he reasoned. ... The trend line went in the opposite direction, after Petraeus took over the Iraq war in January 2007. ... McChrystal's strict guidelines triggered all kinds of grumbling from frontline troops, who felt hampered in their ability to fight the Taliban. Whether or not Petraeus eases those restrictions is one of many questions to be answered, as McChrystal's version of COIN gives way to the Petraeus practice."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.