Although Gen. David Petraeus is considered a shoo-in to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the head of the Afghan war, he still needs to reassure lawmakers of an orderly withdrawal of forces from the country beginning this summer.
In his opening remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus said: "My sense is that tough fighting will continue. Indeed it may get more intense in the next few months."
He also emphasized the need to continue a "hearts and minds" strategy. "As many insurgents and citizens as possible need to be convinced," not killed, he said.
But Petraeus pointed to progress, saying "six months ago, we could not have walked through a market in Marjah."
Some on the Senate committee complain that Afghans view withdrawal as abandonment, but others want to see evidence of a winding down of the U.S. commitment, which has dragged on for nine years.
One thing is nearly certain though – Petraeus will be continuing the same strategy carried out by McChrystal, whose all-too-candid remarks to Rolling Stone magazine landed him in the dock with President Obama. That's because as McChrystal's boss, Petraeus was largely responsible for the current Afghan plan.
As far back as 2008, when the Iraq war still raged white hot, Petraeus acknowledged that "Afghanistan would be the tougher fight."
The New York Times in a recent article said:
In Iraq, General Petraeus was called in to reverse a failed strategy put in place by previous commanders. In Afghanistan, General Petraeus was instrumental in developing and executing the strategy in partnership with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who carried it out on the ground. Now General Petraeus will be directly responsible for its success or failure, risking the reputation he built in Iraq.
The Associated Press contrasted the personalities of the two leaders:
If McChrystal's staff resembled a locker room-style boy's club, Petraeus, a Princeton Ph.D., is known for running his team more like a graduate seminar.
But he can set a ferocious pace.
"He is the Energizer general," says retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was Petraeus' executive officer in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Meanwhile, the AP reports, a new inspector general's report says the capability of many Afghan security forces – the very troops the U.S. has counted on to assume a larger burden – has been overblown, while corruption has run rampant in some quarters.
Gen. Petraeus has his work cut out for him.