Petraeus Wants More Progress In Afghanistan

General David Petraeus appeared on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. It was his first interview about Afghanistan since taking command there.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's talk about one of those continuing wars. The last American commander in Afghanistan lost his job over remarks made in the press. So it may be no accident that the new commander is famous for his careful management of the press.

General David Petraeus has begun a round of media interviews. He turned up yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was listening. He's with us live.

Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you learn?

BOWMAN: Well, not too much, really. Again, General Petraeus carefully manages the press and this is perfectly choreographed here, this appearance on NBC. And throughout the week, Petraeus will hit all the major TV networks. And he's carrying sort of a steady theme. That, first of all, there are some successes in Afghanistan, with improved security in parts of Helmand Province in the south. They've also started creating what are, in essence, armed community watch groups in some villages.

But he's also saying that this is going to take a long time. There are significant challenges still - with security in parts of the country, with corruption in the Karzai government, lack of basic government services for the Afghan people.

And he's also has said and will say, that this administration has finally resourced this adequately; that there are enough soldiers and civilians to start getting the job done.

INSKEEP: Well, one question people have is when you look at all those problems, whether Petraeus thinks he has a way to win this war or if he just wants to get out.

BOWMAN: Well, it seems like he believes they can have success, and he's very careful about using the term winning or win. I think what they're trying to do is stabilize this government, increase the size of the Afghan security forces -they're not going to try to turn them into the Marine Corps, certainly, but adequate enough to be able to fight the Taliban on their own.

So, I don't think he's going to cut and run, and frankly I think what he's saying is, this is going to take a lot longer that people think. Now, the president has said he would like to start removing troops by July 2011. Now, administration officials from Vice President Biden to Defense Secretary Gates are backing off on that, saying don't expect too many to be cut.

And Petraeus himself talked about this a bit yesterday. Let's listen to what he said.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (American Commander in Afghanistan): This is a date when a process begins that is conditions-based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and various governmental institutions, and that enables a, quote, "responsible" drawdown of our forces.

BOWMAN: That's that very carefully placed words there. Conditions-based, in essence, means you need better security, better government, before you can leave parts of the country. So, he's sending the message: don't expect huge numbers to come out by next July. And in fact, one general told me who had some experience in Afghanistan, I asked him when do you think large number of troops can start coming home, and without a beat he answered, 2014.

INSKEEP: Although if you're going to keep large numbers of troops in Afghanistan you need to maintain political support. What's the next point in which Petraeus has to demonstrate some progress here?

BOWMAN: Well, in December he's going to have a review, and people I talked with say he's going to have to show some signs of improvement. And that comes, I think, partly with the military operations you're seeing in the south now, particularly around the city of Kandahar. And I was there back in June and July, and it's pretty bad north of the city in the Arghandab River Valley. It's really like Dodge City, almost. The Taliban are shooting up the real estate.

So, I think there's a lot of pressure, particularly in the Arghandab Valley, north of Kandahar, to show some progress by year's end.

INSKEEP: Tom, let's listen to what Petraeus said when he was asked if the United States is lowering its goals somewhat in Afghanistan.

Mr. PETRAEUS: At the end of the day, it's not about their embrace of us. It's not about us winning hearts and minds; it's about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds. This isn't to say that there's any kind of objective of turning Afghanistan into Switzerland in three to five years or less. Afghan good enough is good enough.

INSKEEP: Okay. Afghan good enough is good enough: is that goal a good enough goal?

BOWMAN: Well, I think certainly for the administration. They say just trying to get this place stable, trying to create enough Afghan security forces is good enough. The previous administration, I think, tried to turn this into a shiny example of democracy. You're not hearing that now.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much, as always.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman bringing us up to date on the first of what may be several television appearances by General David Petraeus, the new American commander in Afghanistan.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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