msnbc.com
updated 8/15/2010 11:54:54 AM ET 2010-08-15T15:54:54

U.S. military leaders inherited a faulty strategy for the war in Afghanistan at the end of the Bush administration and are still working to “refine the concepts,” the U.S. commander said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In his first interview since taking over as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus told NBC’s David Gregory that when “a lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and started looking intently at Afghanistan, we realized that we did not have the organizations that are required for the conduct and the comprehensive civil/military counterinsurgency campaign.”

In the interview, which was conducted last week in Kabul and aired Sunday, Petraeus did not specifically criticize former President George W. Bush, who promoted him to head of U.S. Central Command in April 2008. But the timetable he described left little doubt that he believed the Bush administration inadequately laid the groundwork for integrating Afghan leaders into the allied military structure.

“Over the last 18 months or so” — Bush left the White House 18 months ago — “what we’ve sought to do in Afghanistan is to get the inputs right for the first time,” Petraeus said. “We needed to refine the concepts — to build, in some cases, concepts that didn’t exist” seven years after the Afghan war began in October 2001.

One of those concepts, he said, is whether to include former anti-U.S. insurgents into Afghanistan’s post-war civil structure.

“If you don’t want to have to kill or capture every bad guy in the country, you have to reintegrate those who are willing to be reconciled and become part of the solution instead of the continuing part of the problem,” he said.

Another is the proper level of U.S. commitment, he said — “above all the resources.”

“By the end of August, of course, we will have nearly tripled the number of U.S. forces on the ground” since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

July 2011 deadline could be flexible
Petraeus also signaled that Obama’s deadline of next July to begin pulling back from the battlefield might not be set in stone and said that he would not hesitate to tell the president if he concluded that the deadline was unrealistic.

While Obama has made it “very clear” that he wants to begin turning over security operations to Afghan forces in 11 months, Petraeus stressed that he was intent on a “responsible drawdown of our forces,” which he said meant “this is a date when a process begins that is conditions-based.”

Petraeus assumed command in Afghanistan after Gen. Stanley McChrystal was removed because of remarks by his staff in a magazine interview that revealed significant disagreement with Obama’s leadership of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the interview airing Sunday, he said he “certainly” would have no reluctance to tell Obama if he believed that the president’s policy was not working and the deadline should be dropped.

“I’m not bowed over by the knowledge that July 2011 is out there,” he said.

The deadline does, however, help by providing a “message of increased urgency” to allied forces and Afghan leaders, Petraeus said.

“This has been going on for some nine years or so. There is understandable concern — in some cases, frustration,” he said.

“We’ve got to really put our shoulders to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved,” he said, not just to the American people but also to “the citizens of all the 47 or so troop-contributing nations and of other nations who are contributing money and not forces.”

By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com

Video: Petraeus: Political deadline not ‘stifling’

  1. Transcript of: Petraeus: Political deadline not ‘stifling’

    MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about U.S. troops . I asked you before, when we talked about this July deadline of next year, how stifling is the, the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you're trying to do here?

    GEN. PETRAEUS: I don't find it that stifling. I'm not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden 's been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a "responsible drawdown of our forces"...

    MR. GREGORY: Let me just stop you.

    GEN. PETRAEUS: ...of the service forces to begin.

    MR. GREGORY: I just want to clarify this. Did -- could you reach that point and say, "I know that the process is supposed to begin, but my assessment as the commander here is that it cannot begin now"?

    GEN. PETRAEUS: Certainly, yeah. Again, the president and I sat down in the Oval Office , and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice where I understand the mission that's been assigned, we have recommended the strategy and the resources that are required for that strategy, and as there are changes in any of that, that, obviously, I would communicate that to him, recognizing that he has some issues with which he has to deal that we don't have to worry about. But that, that's real life. And, again, that was the process that we worked through last fall, a process that I thought was very good, the outcome of which was something that we, we strongly supported. Let me point out one other item about July 2011 if I could. Because what I have often noted was that in the speech that the president made at West Point , there were two messages. One was a message of substantial additional commitment, additional 30,000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorization of 100,000 more of them and so forth; but also a message of increased urgency. And that's what July 2011 really connotes. It is to all the participants, those in Kabul , some of us in uniform, again our civilian counterparts, that we've got to get on with this, that this has been going on for some nine years or so, that there is understandable concern, in some cases frustration, and that, therefore, we've got to really put our shoulder to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved. And, and, again, one manifestation of that is out there that you have this date. But, again, we've had good dialogue on this, and I think the president's been quite clear in explaining that it's a process, not an event, and that it's conditions based.

    MR. GREGORY: There's a feeling that General Petraeus , with the credibility you have, will be in a position to prevail in a debate about this and say to the president, "Look," you know, "you put me in this position to do a tough job, now you've got to listen to me. I need what I need at the time that I need it."

    GEN. PETRAEUS: Look, my job is, again, to provide my best professional military advice, informed, certainly, by an awareness of the context within which I provide it, but not driven by it. And that's the same way that we approached the very difficult recommendations that we made during the effort in Iraq . Over time I think those worked out and, touch wood, that over time they can work out here as well.

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