Petraeus Talks Driving, Afghanis Talk Security

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Americans must go to war to defeat old enemies — not to create new ones.

That was the message delivered by Gen. David Petraeus at Brigham Young University on Thursday evening. The commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, delivered only a few minutes of prepared remarks, choosing instead to field a diverse and complicated array of questions from BYU students.

But in answering the students’ queries, Petraeus turned repeatedly to a central theme.

“You cannot have tactical successes that are strategic defeats,” he said, arguing that a successful counterinsurgency operation requires U.S. troops to be mindful not to create collateral damage when pursuing terrorists, insurgents and rebel fighters.

And while that certainly means avoiding civilian casualties, Petraeus said that wasn’t enough. Even the way U.S. military members drive in Iraq and Afghanistan can cause anger and resentment among civilians, he said, noting that U.S. troops driving “in an egregious manner,” on their way to tactical engagements, “were making far more enemies on our way” than they could possibly destroy once they arrived.

Even in recently liberated Marjah, the Taliban are still so active that doctors don’t want clinics and medicine at the expense of the U.S. military because they will be seen as allied with the U.S.  In response to Obama’s recent travel to Afghanistan, one Afghan posed this salient question.

Over the course of his 60 years in Afghanistan, Ghulam Ghaus has heard promises from an Afghan king, Soviet commanders, mujahedin fighters and Taliban mullahs. Over the last decade, he’s heard from two U.S. presidents and countless coalition officials.

So when Ghaus listened to President Obama’s speech Sunday night, the Kabul-area farmer was left with a very familiar feeling.

“Many countries have come to help and they’ve built bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. Many presidents have come and given speeches,” Ghaus said. “But what have they done for security?

Then this important perspective from Mr. Obama: “The United States is a partner, but our intent is to make sure that the Afghans have the capacity to provide for their own security. That is core to our mission.”  This sounds eerily like our position in Iraq before the surge: “We’ll stand down when they stand up.”

It’s very well and good to create a viable defense force to provide security once we depart, but we’re looking to infrastructure to do what only robust combat operations can – turn back the Taliban.  It’s doubtful that many Afghanis talk about American driving habits when they cannot open clinics or markets because of Taliban intimidation.  We’re best to focus on first order rather than second or third order effects.

  • MGGodde

    Captain,

    I find it very interesting that now at such a late point in the game, General Petraeus is stating how the driving of our armed forces is not helping us make more friends.

    After reading several books regarding private contracting in Afghanistan and Iraq for my graduating thesis I found a disturbing trend that even American private contractors were not known for their good driving behavior.

    I think its a combination of both elements that have possibly led to our deterioration of the good fight…or in the very least limiting our effect to really carry out the hearts and minds campaign. One of the many facets to consider.


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency and was published March 29th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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