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Petraeus: Afghan Army, Police Making Progress; but Retention Lags

February 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM EST
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Charles Sennott of GlobalPost sat down with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan, for an extended interview about where the fight for Afghanistan stands as the spring "fighting season" approaches. Sennott later spoke with the NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight an update from Afghanistan.

This morning, Charles Sennott of the international website GlobalPost sat down for an extended interview with General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

Shortly afterwards, I talked with Sennott from Kabul.

JEFFREY BROWN: Charlie Sennott, welcome.

You spoke to Gen. Petraeus about the new situation in Egypt first. Tell us about that.

CHARLES SENNOTT, GlobalPost: The situation in Egypt obviously has a much wider impact. And General Petraeus has been following the situation closely, particularly the ramifications it could have for the global struggle on terrorism.

And he told us that this set of street riots that have been going on in Cairo have an impact much beyond Egypt.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, International Security Assistance Force: Well, I actually was exchanging e-mails with someone whose views I respect greatly when it comes to the broader Mideast region and so forth.

And he said, “I think this shows the importance once again of leaders to listen to their people. The wise men listen and show that they are listening and respond.”

And I think that is a universal lesson from — that has been reaffirmed in these particular circumstances.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in Afghanistan, Charlie, of course, the big question is how much progress is being made, particularly along the Pakistan border area.

CHARLES SENNOTT: That’s right. That is one of the most critical issues of the offensive in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

The border area is where they have added a lot of intelligence assets. And they have really tried to get what they call an unblinking eye along that border and tried to work with Pakistani officials to go after the safe havens inside Pakistan.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, there is a good cooperative effort with Pakistan in terms of coordinating activities on either side of the Durand Line, the border between the two countries.

As Pakistan continues its campaign against the Pakistani Taliban and the other elements allied within it, those that pose such a serious threat to the very existence of Pakistan, that threatened it up until about two years ago, really, and against which Pakistan has done quite impressive operations, starting in Swat Valley and then in the various agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, that has gone on.

Now, I think it is — you must recognize the sacrifices that Pakistan has made, the losses that they have taken in their military, their police and, indeed, among their civilian population. They need to consolidate some of those. They are the first to note that there is more work that needs to be done, not only against those that threaten them but also against groups that threaten their neighbors and indeed threaten the rest of the world.

CHARLES SENNOTT: But what about the criticism that Pakistan has just not done enough, you know, that — that — that Pakistan, for a long time, did harbor the Taliban? They allowed them to stay there. They went largely unimpeded in their — in their efforts to consolidate and regroup in the wake of September 11.

That criticism is still resonant, and it’s still very strong, and a feeling that Pakistan hasn’t done enough. How would you answer people who are — are critical of Pakistan in that way?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, first, I think I’d recap what they have done over the course of the past two years, ever since they started the offensive in Swat Valley, in the Malakand Division of what used to be known as the Northwest Frontier Province, which they then continued in the agencies of the FATA, in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, South Waziristan, Orakzai, and so forth, and what they are continuing to do while then also recognizing, as they do very clearly, that there is more that needs to be done against again the Pakistani Taliban, as well as against some of the other elements that, again, threaten Afghanistan and, indeed, pose threats to Western Europe and our homeland.

JEFFREY BROWN: The military is now preparing for a spring offensive, right?

CHARLES SENNOTT: That’s right.

It’s the so-called season of fighting. And that will get under way in the end of March as the weather begins to warm up. That campaign will move basically from the south to the north. So you will see the fighting really begin to intensify. And this will be a pivotal moment in what’s now a 10-year war in Afghanistan.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: We just got the inputs right in Afghanistan this past fall. We just finished the establishment of all the different organizations that are needed for the conduct of a comprehensive civil military campaign, deployed the additional U.S., other troop-contributing nation and Afghan forces, again, over 110,000 more than last year at this time.

CHARLES SENNOTT: So, it’s a consolidation of all of those different…

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: That’s correct.

CHARLES SENNOTT: … efforts into one direction?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: That’s correct.

And even as we were getting the inputs right, of course, used them to achieve outputs in the form of taking away important safe havens from the Taliban, the areas around Kabul, on the doorstep of Kandahar and Central Helmand Province and so forth.

We want to not only solidify those further in the two months or so remaining before the fighting season begins. We want to expand those further. In fact, we are working right now on connecting the Kandahar security bubble and the Helmand security bubble.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the issue of handing over more responsibility to the Afghans themselves?

CHARLES SENNOTT: Well, the transition to Afghan forces is — is essential. That’s the way that the United States begins to draw down its own forces.

And we asked General Petraeus about that.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, we think that we will be able to commence transition here in the months that lie ahead. Indeed, I will make a recommendation up the NATO chain of command. Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the — our Afghan counterpart on the joint Afghan-NATO transition board, will make the recommendation to President Karzai somewhere around the end of February.

And so that recommendation will go forward. And we believe that there are some very viable candidates for transition that we will be able to identify.

Clearly, a lot of this hinges on the ability of Afghan forces to do more as we do progressively less. We’re not just going to say: Tag, you’re it. We’re out of here.

We are going thin out, not just hand off. We’ll stay, we’ll support, but progressively, over time obviously we do want to reduce our numbers in specific locations, based on conditions, and then either reinvest that transition gain or dividend in a contiguous area or in the training mission, or ultimately begin to send some of them home.

And the Afghan…

CHARLES SENNOTT: And you’re on target…

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: We are very much on target with the growth of the Afghan army and the Afghan police.

CHARLES SENNOTT: OK.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: But it is because the recruiting has been so high, while the attrition is still above what we would like to see and what, more importantly, the ministries would like to see.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Charlie, you also talked to General Petraeus about the continuing problem of corruption, including the flow of aid money into Afghanistan and what becomes of it.

CHARLES SENNOTT: That’s right. The issue of aid going into Afghanistan is one that can have very serious ramifications for the campaign. I mean, it can really actually have perverse consequences and unintended consequences.

For example, if the military is giving out aid and that goes into a sort of criminal enterprise, they can actually undercut governance. On the other hand, you have USAID projects that are going to Afghan subcontractors, who are sometimes ending up paying a sort of protection racket to the Taliban.

So, this kind of corruption is systemic. It’s something that General Petraeus was very self-effacing about and he said they needed to work harder on.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, in fact, we are working very closely with our civilian partners from the U.S. Embassy, from AID and indeed more broadly speaking the international community to address those issues.

In fact, this is so serious, that, in this particular mission, not only did I issue the traditional counterinsurgency guidance — obviously an adaptation from what I did in Iraq, because this is not Iraq, by a long stretch — but I also issued counterinsurgency contracting guidance, because if the counterinsurgency guidance says that money is ammunition — and it does — the contracting guidance should say, if money is ammunition, we need to put it in the right hands and make sure it doesn’t go into the wrong hands in fact.

These are criminals. They have political patronage. And they are networks. They are elements. They are not just individuals. And these have to be dealt with. It is our money, by and large, that is fueling some of the problems that we now have to address.

JEFFREY BROWN: Charlie, before we end, give me some final impressions of your time with General Petraeus.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Well, it was an extraordinary opportunity to really go inside ISAF headquarters. We were at the morning briefing, where we really heard about a lot of different operations. All of them were classified.

But we got to see the sense of a momentum, I think. General Petraeus talked about having 110,000 additional troops as he goes into this — 30,000 of those are the surge troops that President Obama called for — 70,000 are the newly trained Afghan forces and 10,000 come from the coalition.

I think he feels confident that the last few months have really given them a sort of foothold where they feel, as they go into the fighting season, they are ready, and this is going to be a defining moment in this campaign in Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Charlie Sennott of GlobalPost in Kabul, thanks a lot.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Thanks, Jeff.