Afghanistan To Test Petraeus' Master Plan Concerns are increasing over what is seen as a faltering war effort in Afghanistan, and whether the new counterinsurgency strategy will succeed. Eyes are on Gen. David Petraeus to see how — and even if — he revises the plan.
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Afghanistan To Test Petraeus' Master Plan

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Afghanistan To Test Petraeus' Master Plan

Afghanistan To Test Petraeus' Master Plan

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There are many others questioning the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Violence is on the rise and June has been the deadliest month for foreign troops in the nearly nine-year war.

NPR's Jackie Northam has our report.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Yesterday's hearing clearly showed that there are high expectations for General Petraeus, not only to seamlessly assume command in Afghanistan but to quickly try to salvage the war effort there.

President Obama signed off on a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan in December, which involves deploying an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to battle insurgents while civilians help build the country's infrastructure and civil society.

So far, the results are widely viewed as less than promising. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given Petraeus the green light to tinker with that strategy. This is not at all uncommon, says counterinsurgency specialist David Kilcullen.

Mr. DAVID KILCULLEN: If we've learned anything from the experience of counterinsurgency over the last few hundred years, it's that adaptation and change are normal and critically important.

NORTHAM: Petraeus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency now used by the U.S. military. He implemented it in Iraq, and General Stanley McChrystal adapted it when he took command in Afghanistan.

Petraeus indicated, if confirmed, he would adjust the rules of engagement, which limit the use of firepower and airstrikes in order to protect civilians. But U.S. troops complain the rules make them more vulnerable.

John Nagl is the president of the Center for a New American Security. He helped Petraeus write the counterinsurgency manual.

Mr. JOHN NAGL (Center for a New American Security): In any counterinsurgency campaign you're doing a very delicate balancing act. If you kill or capture innocents, you can create more insurgents. But if you're too restrictive in terms of how your rules of engagement are applied, you can put your troops at too much risk.

NORTHAM: Petraeus didn't indicate he would make any sweeping changes to the strategy, which he described as sound - just what he called a bit of tinkering and tweaking. Petraeus said it was more about executing than redesign.

Nonsense, says retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international affairs at Boston University.

Professor ANDREW BACEVICH (Boston University): General Petraeus is deeply invested in this doctrine of counterinsurgency. My own view is that the counterinsurgency strategy isn't working and that what we really need is not simply a change of command but a radical change of approach.

Bacevich asks why the U.S. continues to pour enormous amounts of money and troops into Afghanistan. Like other analysts, he favors a smaller American presence there.

Bacevich says an equally effective counterinsurgency strategy would involve two components. One would be a comprehensive intelligence collection and analysis network.

Prof. BACEVICH: And the second component would be a strike capacity, the ability to attack jihadists if indeed they were engaged in something that we thought was unacceptable. That strike capacity could consist of aerial platforms. It could consist of small contingents of special operations forces.

NORTHAM: Military officials say Special Forces have already been effective in rooting out insurgent leaders, but counterinsurgency specialist Kilcullen says there's more involved in the strategy, such as building good governance, curbing corruption and training an effective security force. None of that has happened yet, and it all takes time.

But Kilcullen says there are looming deadlines - a progress report in December and the July 2011 timeline that President Obama uses to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops, based on conditions.

Mr. KILCULLEN: Any strategy is about three basic things: objectives, resources, time. And so anybody looking at the Afghan strategy has to be considering the time factor as one of the most important issues.

NORTHAM: Time needed to try to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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