by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

With Afghanistan troubled, Pakistan aflame and Washington impa tient, Gen. David Petraeus faces even greater challenges today than he did in his rescue of Iraq. Currently heading the US Central Command, Petraeus is the American soldier responsible for the greater Middle East. It may be the toughest job of our time.

On Saturday, the general answered questions posed by The New York Post:

Post: With the summer combat season beginning, the Taliban in an aggressive stance and a surge of 21,000 more US troops into Afghanistan, what should the American people expect in the coming months?

Petraeus: Expect tough fighting. As we and our allies launch operations to improve security, the enemy will fight back. When we launched the “surge of offensives” in Iraq, al Qaeda-Iraq elements sought to retain their sanctuaries and safe havens. We experienced tough combat. We’ll see the same in Afghanistan. In preparation, and in response to Gen. McKiernan’s request for additional forces, we’ve been deploying “enabler” elements in addition to the ground combat units. This will ensure that our troopers have the support they need — attack and lift helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, various intelligence systems, route clearance units, MRAP [mine-resistant ambush-protected] vehicles, EOD [bomb-disposal] elements and logistics units.

Post: As the commander of the US Central Command, you’re the big-picture “strategy guy.” Could you give readers a clear statement of our mission in Afghanistan?

Petraeus: The mission is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other transnational extremists. That’s what it had become before the operations conducted in the wake of 9/11. Al Qaeda wants to carry out further attacks on the US and our allies, and we need to deny them safe havens in which they can plan and train for such attacks.

Post: Can we get there from here?

Petraeus: We can, but it won’t be easy. To accomplish our mission, we and our coalition and Afghan partners need to reverse the decline in security; develop Afghan forces that can shoulder the burden of security in their country over time; help establish governance that wins local support — which means incorporating some traditional structures, and support the improvement of basic services for the Afghan people. This will be hard, but the mission’s critical. As we used to say about Iraq: Hard is not hopeless.

Post: With the Taliban and the Pashtun tribal network in which it’s rooted sprawled across the Afghan and Pakistani borders, aren’t we reliant on Pakistan for the success of our mission?

Petraeus: Certainly, what happens in Pakistan has a significant effect on what transpires in Afghanistan. That’s one reason — among many — why we need to help Pakistan. But progress can be achieved in Afghanistan — even as Pakistani action against the extremists in the rugged border areas develops slowly, due in part to their present focus on the Taliban in Swat.

The Pakistani operation under way is a very significant effort. The Pakistani military has been concentrating a substantial force for this operation — one they’re intent on fighting without our help, reflecting their view that this is their fight and demonstrating that they’re not merely pursuing American interests. The magnitude is the result of a unique convergence of public rejection of the Taliban, political unity and military determination.

Post: In Iraq, you worked closely with our new commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stan MacChrystal, our top special operator. How will this team work in Afghanistan?

Petraeus: While careful not to presume Senate confirmation, I’m confident that this US team will work effectively with our NATO and Afghan partners, civilian as well as military. I’ve known Gen. MacChrystal since we were captains together at Fort Stewart, Ga., in the early 1980s. He later replaced me in two positions at Fort Bragg when we were both brigadier generals, and we worked together during our years in Iraq as well. He’s exceptional in every respect, as are the new US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, and Lt. Gen. Dave Rodriguez, who will be Gen. MacChrystal’s US Forces deputy. And I’m privileged to have Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as my “diplomatic wingman.” This must be a team effort, and the team’s a strong one.

Post: You’re famous for “doing your homework,” for studying a problem well beyond the daily intelligence reports. What are you reading right now?

Petraeus: “The Pathans,” by Olaf Caroe, the classic work on the Pashtu of Afghanistan and Pakistan, for its wonderfully rich history; and “Seven Deadly Scenarios,” by Andrew Krepinevich, for its thought-provoking scenarios, many of which are in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

Post: Gen. Petraeus, thank you for taking the time to speak to our readers — and Godspeed! ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

Leave a Reply