Obama Signals Shift Away From Petraeus’ Strategy

By Patrick Goodenough | June 23, 2011 | 4:25 AM EDT

President Barack Obama stands with Gen. David Petraeus and Vice President Joe Biden in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday, June 23, 2010, to announce that Petraeus will replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – Gen. David Petraeus, whose view on the speed of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan reportedly was overruled by President Obama, is set to relinquish his command as early as mid-July, Stars and Stripes reported.

Petraeus, who has led U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces in Afghanistan for the past 12 months, is set to take the helm at the Central Intelligence Agency in September. He faces a Senate intelligence committee confirmation hearing on Thursday.

The officer President Obama has named to succeed Petraeus in September, Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, is scheduled to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 28. Stars and Stripes cited Pentagon officials as indicating that Petraeus could leave his post by July 18, assuming Allen’s nomination is approved.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Washington Post this week that moving up the change of command in Afghanistan was intended to give Petraeus a breather after a “pretty wild” four-and-a-half years.

Petraeus assumed command of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in January 2007; was promoted in October 2008 to head up U.S. Central Command, charged with overseeing both the Iraq and Afghanistan missions; and then last June was appointed to his current post to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

In 2006, Petraeus helped oversee production of the U.S. Army and Marine field manual on counterinsurgency – the troop-intensive strategy that seeks to win over a population by providing security and services and so reduce the appeal of insurgency. He pursued that approach in Iraq.

Critics, some of whom deride the strategy as “armed nation-building,” argue that smaller, more focused counter-terrorism operations are the way to go. Vice President Joseph Biden has been closely associated with that viewpoint.

With Petraeus’ support, McChrystal advocated an aggressive counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan and sought an additional 40,000 troops when the administration was reviewing its options in late 2009. Obama that December announced the deployment of 30,000 extra troops, and indicated that a phased withdrawal would begin in July 2011.

When Obama announced the start of that drawdown on Wednesday night – 10,000 troops out by the end of this year, a total of 33,000 by September 2012 – Obama did not mention Petraeus by name.

But the president did imply that the counterinsurgency strategy designed by the outgoing ISAF commander was on the way out, as he stressed the Afghan government’s responsibility for “opening markets and schools” and for securing its people.

“We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place,” Obama said. “We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.  That is the responsibility of the Afghan government, which must step up its ability to protect its people, and move from an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.”

Later in his statement, Obama said that after spending a trillion dollars on war over the past decade, it was time to invest in the American people.

“America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home,” he declared.

Asked during a background briefing before Obama’s speech whether the drawdown plan had Petraeus’ support, a senior administration official said it fell within a range of options put forward by the ISAF commander.

“General Petraeus presented the president with a range of options for pursuing this drawdown. There were certainly options that went beyond what the president settled on in terms of the length of time that it would take to recover the surge and the pace that troops would come out – so there were options that would have kept troops in Afghanistan longer, at a higher number.

“That said, the president’s decision was fully within the range of options that were presented to him and has the full support of his national security team,” the official added.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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