As Leadership Changes, So Could Afghanistan Strategy A year after President Obama asked Gen. David Petraeus to jump-start the counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, he's handing over command. And there's a question of whether the change also signals a shift in strategy — from fixing Afghanistan to taking out insurgents with targeted raids and drone strikes.
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As Leadership Changes, So Could Afghanistan Strategy

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As Leadership Changes, So Could Afghanistan Strategy

As Leadership Changes, So Could Afghanistan Strategy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Today in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus stepped down as the top U.S. commander. Petraeus is leaving to go head the CIA and he handed control of the war over to Marine Corps General John Allen. It was just over a year ago that President Obama asked Petraeus to take charge in Afghanistan and to jumpstart the counterinsurgency mission there.

Now, NPR's Rachel Martin reports on whether today's change in command also signals a change in strategy.

RACHEL MARTIN: When asked earlier this month about the chances for success in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus repeated what he has said since his first day on the job.

DAVID PETRAEUS: We believe this is doable. This is hard but doable.

MARTIN: At the same time, Petraeus, who helped write the counterinsurgency strategy left room for doubt about what it can achieve.

PETRAEUS: There has been progress over the course of the last year in particular. And what we are intent on doing is building on that progress, so that by the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be the lead. And that's what we're intent on doing. But I don't issue guarantees.

MARTIN: The gist of the counterinsurgency strategy is this: Protect the Afghan population, win their support for the Afghan national government, and build up Afghan security forces. Making that happen costs a lot of money. The U.S. is spending roughly $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. It also requires a lot of boots on the ground - at the height of the surge roughly 100,000 U.S. troops. For all that, results have been hard to measure.

There is an alternative strategy out there: Just go after the terrorists. Best example, the special operations raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

LEON PANETTA: One of my proudest moments was my ability, as CIA director, to work with Special Forces in the plan to go after bin Laden. That was a major blow to al-Qaida.

MARTIN: That's Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta talking with troops in Afghanistan last week. Panetta didn't say his number one priority is building a stable Afghanistan or defeating the Taliban. He said it's fighting al-Qaida.

PANETTA: And every time you go after targets here, you add to the effort to dismantle and disrupt al-Qaida and their militant allies.

MARTIN: Analysts say President Obama's decision to start drawing down forces in Afghanistan could be the start of a shift in strategy; less emphasis on fixing Afghanistan - the counterinsurgency strategy - and more emphasis on taking out insurgents with targeted raids and drone strikes - the counterterrorism strategy. Not everyone welcomes such a shift.

JOHN NAGL: The bin Laden raid, important as it was, was designed to remove one person from the battlefield.

MARTIN: John Nagl is the president of the Center for a New American Security.

NAGL: It's really, really hard to taking people off the battlefield. It's necessary, but it's not sufficient to accomplish your objective, if that objective is to leave behind a stable society.

MARTIN: Nagl says a move towards a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan is a short-term fix.

NAGL: It has no end state. Whatever caused those insurgents to rise in the first place is likely to continue to create more of them.

MARTIN: The U.S. has only committed the right resources to the counterinsurgency strategy in this past year, Nagl says. And success will take more time. He admits even then the outcome is murky.

NAGL: There is no guarantee that even if we follow this strategy, that if we work hard to build better Afghan governance, better Afghan security forces, that insurgents cannot again find a base inside Afghanistan. But we make it less likely.

MARTIN: The question is which strategy works in Afghanistan now - counterinsurgency or counterterror. General David Petraeus will still have a say in the matter, although from a different vantage point.

The architect of the counterinsurgency strategy is set to take charge at the CIA, where he'll lead the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaida.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.

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