Petraeus Takes Command: 'We Are In This To Win'
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden in for Liane Hansen.
General David Petraeus has arrived in Afghanistan to take command of U.S. and NATO forces there. We are in this to win, he said, during a ceremony today at NATO headquarters. Petraeus recognized the achievements of his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, who was fired last month because of remarks he and his aides made in a feature in Rolling Stone magazine.
Petraeus said the change in command did not affect the overall strategy of the military mission in Afghanistan, but that he would examine policies to determine where refinements might be needed. One of the general's first priorities will be assessing plans for a major offensive in Kandahar.
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is at a combat outpost just north of Kandahar City with troops from the 101st Airborne Division. Hi there, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN: Hi, Jacki, how are you?
LYDEN: Good, thanks. Now, you've been in Afghanistan almost a month. What are you seeing right now?
BOWMAN: Well, right now we're north of Kandahar City in an area called Zari, and we've been patrolling with the 101st going around combat outposts, patrolling into the cities. And there are about 800 troops from the 101st here. We expect hundreds more in the coming weeks and also a lot more Afghan troops as well.
And what they hope to do is partner one-for-one with the Afghan troops. And they're really taking the fight to the Taliban, and this is where the Taliban has a safe haven. This is where Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, is from here. He grew up just a few miles to the west of here. And this is where they find support among the population, this is where they hide their weapons and also this is where they plan attacks going into Kandahar City.
LYDEN: So, Tom, we've heard a lot about the fight for Kandahar and it's being delayed but expected to ramp up during the fall. What's the strategy? You mentioned that these troops are trying to take the fight to the Taliban but there's also a lot of sympathy and support for Taliban there.
BOWMAN: Right. Right now we're seeing, again, patrolling with Afghan forces, Afghan army and police. And just yesterday, two days ago rather, we were in a village called Senjaray(ph). And what happened was one of the district leaders, a guy named Karum John(ph), was leading actually American forces and Afghan forces through this village. There were some grenade attacks on American forces and the Americans wanted to go in there and try to put a stop to it, and this guy really took the lead.
And it's instructive because the Americans are urging Afghan leaders to take a more decisive role. I think into the fall, after Ramadan in August and after the grape harvest, we're going to see more sweeping operations really going after the Taliban, again with a lot more American and Afghan troops.
LYDEN: Tom, have you talked to soldiers at all about the arrival of General Petraeus and has that had any measurable effect on morale after the departure of General McChrystal?
BOWMAN: You know, it's funny, it has really had no impact whatsoever. I talked to a few soldiers about Petraeus coming in. They just kind of, you know, shrugged their shoulders and they said, well, sir, that's a position that's so far up from my position as a private or a sergeant, I really have no comment on it.
I think with the more senior officers I've spoken with, you know, they're pretty sad about what happened to McChrystal. You know, some of them I talked with read the article and were surprised by some of the things he was saying and his staff were saying. And they're looking forward to Petraeus coming in. Of course, he really turned Iraq around back during the surge there three years ago. But I think that clearly the sense is that Petraeus is going to find a much tougher fight here.
The military part of this fight isn't as far along as it was in Iraq. And it's going to be some time before they get things under control.
If there's one word I keep hearing here, it's patience. And also, everyone I've spoken with, from Green Berets to soldiers to generals to even warlords here, Afghan warlords, they say it's going to take years before you can train an Afghan army, train an Afghan police force and really get the government leaders doing what they're supposed to be doing: getting out into the districts, into the city and providing services for their people.
LYDEN: Well, thank you for that assessment. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Thanks again, Tom.
BOWMAN: Okay. Thanks, Jacki.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.