Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee if he is confirmed as commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan he would re-look the rules of engagement covering those forces but at the same time work to limit casualties of innocent civilians.
Testifying June 29, he said, “I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform.”
Petraeus, now serving as U.S Central Command commander, added that he had talked with Afghan leaders about the current rules of engagement, particularly concerning air strikes, and they agreed with his view.
He was confirmed June 30.
In his opening statement, he said, “I will continue the emphasis” on reducing civilian casualties while continuing missions designed to capture or kill insurgents. He cited the recent success in capturing or killing 130 Taliban leaders in recent months.
He also mentioned a number of lower level Taliban fighters have laid down their arms and are being re-integrated into Afghan society under a new policy recently unveiled by the government of President Hamid Karzai.
“Protecting the population inevitably requires killing, capturing or turning the insurgents. Our forces have been doing that,” he added. “What impresses the Taliban is not the rules of engagement,” he said in answer to a question. “but by being relentless, by getting into the jugular and not letting go.”
While acknowledging progress has been slow in training Afghan forces to take the lead in planning, executing and following up on military operations, Petraeus said there has been progress. He cited the number of casualties the Afghans have suffered as an example of their commitment to the fight against the Taliban. “There’s no love lost for the Taliban,” he said.
“My sense is the tough fighting will continue” and “progress is possible” in establishing security that will eventually allow the Afghans to re-develop their agricultural economy and launch their mineral economy with help from “adventure capitalists.”
“We want Afghan ownership of Afghan problems” in security, governance and development.
“There is nothing easy about it,” Petraeus said about counterinsurgency warfare.
He said the July 1, 2011, date to possibly begin removing American combat forces from Afghanistan was a policy he “supported and I agreed with.”
Petraeus said it was sent as signal of urgency to the Afghans to expand their efforts to recruit more soldiers, police and other security forces and also a signal of the United States and NATO’s greater commitment to Afghanistan.
“It was not just for domestic political purposes. It was also meant for audiences in Kabul that we will not be there forever,” Petraeus said. He called the July date the “beginning of a process” and that the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan was “an enduring one.”
Republicans on the committee kept returning to the date in their questioning and the different signals establishing a timeline was sending to the Afghans, the Pakistanis, al Qaeda and the 46 nations in the coalition.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “Somebody needs to get it straight, without a doubt, what the hell we’re going to do in July.”
As he testified in earlier hearings, Petraeus said the July 2011 was “not the date the United States turns out the lights and heads for the exits.”
“Non-U.S. forces will total over 50,000” this summer, and the United States will have 100,000 soldiers and marines in place, compared to 30,000 in 2009.
Petraeus told the committee that he would insist on “an unshakeable commitment to teamwork among all elements of the U.S. government” as the new commander in Afghanistan. He cited his experience in Iraq. “We’ve done it before. …We all worked together. We are all committed to unity of effort in Afghanistan.”
Later, in answer to a question, he said that he was intent on also working closely with the NATO allies, the United Nations and the Afghan government.
“We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists.” Adding, “We cannot allow al Qaeda and other transnational terrorists to establish sanctuaries” from which to launch attacks on Afghanistan, the United States and its allies.
In many ways, this hearing echoed one two weeks before when he and Michele Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy, testified on progress in Afghanistan. In both he described counterinsurgency as a roller-coaster ride with ups and downs; and in both he said that progress was being made.
Petraeus was named to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan, following the publication of derogatory remarks by him and his aides on members of the administration.
McChrystal resigned his position, and the Army announced his retirement June 28.
During the hearing, Petraeus and all the senators thanked McChrystal for his more than 30 years of service to the Army and the nation.