Small Wars Journal

Gen. David Petraeus' Strategy for Afghanistan: It Works

Gen. David Petraeus' Strategy for Afghanistan: It Works - David Wood, Politics Daily.

Lost in the furor over the disgraced Gen. Stanley McChrystal is this simple truth: The counterinsurgency strategy championed by his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, works.

Awaiting his confirmation by the Senate early next week as the new commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus is assembling his war staff and planning how to tackle his biggest and most immediate problems: the stalled offensive in Kandahar, the lackluster performance of the Afghan army and police, and the ragged relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

As chief architect of the counterinsurgency strategy he implemented in Iraq and which McChrystal adapted to Afghanistan a year ago, Petraeus knows that aggressively combining security with appropriate political and economic action - with a good dollop of humility that puts the Afghans in charge - is a long-term but sure road to success. In short, as many soldiers in Afghanistan have shown me, the strategy works. But it takes time and patience...

More at Politics Daily.


Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/29/2010 - 6:36pm

"...but doesn't really matter if I agree with you or not..."

Indeed. Some wish to engage in spinning the facts. Whether it is written in aook or not.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Tue, 06/29/2010 - 1:10pm

I served in Iraq from 2003 to 2008... I actually got to witness how our initiatives played themselves out over 5 years and I did not experience the narrative that you propose and I did not experience the narrative that you propose. I also maintained copious notes over those 5 years in country for use in an eventual book and am more than happy to discuss in more detail with you off-line.

The narrative is simple. The surge translated into more soldiers and Marines to pacify and protect the population. Do the math and then tell me how many additional soldiers and Marines were actually required to pacify and protect the population... "Go back into the cities en mass and see what happens?" How in the hell would we go back into the cities en mass and still have enough left over to pacify and protect the rural population???

Maybe we should add another COIN principle. All COIN operations are economy of force missions. Tell me, when and how many additional Marines found their way to Anbar province during the surge period? Beware, it is a trick question and the answer might surprise the hard-core surge narratanista.

During my 5 year stay in Iraq, my work provided me the opportunity to read and study all subsequent revisions to the campaign plan and I can identify a direct lineage between the ICDC concept and the awakening and Sons of Iraq or any other neighborhood watch initiative in the post-Gen P era in Iraq. The ICDC was the first effort to arm, train and fight local security forces... Pure spin my rear end...What the hell does it even mean to accuse me of trying to spin a link between establishing a local security force in the north in late 2003 - early 2004 and doing the same in Anbar under the awakening label? Are you telling me that Gen P did not draw upon his experience as the Division Commander of the 101st in 2003-2004 while serving as the commander of MNF-I?

Sorry Anonymous, I don't agree with your assessment or your narrative. Your assessment/narrative clashes with my experiences... but doesn't really matter if I agree with you or not...

I'll write my book and you can write yours.


Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 4:33pm

"Moved out of the cities? Is that what we did?"

Yes. After the surge that is exactly what was done.

"This information surprises me since the "surge" was distinctly advertised as 'winning the fight for Baghdad'..."

Yes, that's what was "advertised." Go back into the cities en masse and see what happens.

ICDC had nothing to do with the "awakening," nor did Gen P. That's pure spin. Gen P. wouldn't do his "Saul to Paul" transformation until after he rotated back to the US for his sabbatical. Before that he was simply part of the "ride around in a jeep and get blown up" strategy that was executed for at least three years prior to the surge.

The surge indeed was well executed, but the enemy was not "defeated." We climbed out of the boxing ring even though we were winning the round.

"MAC" McCallister (not verified)

Mon, 06/28/2010 - 2:52pm

Moved out of the cities? Is that what we did? This information surprises me since the "surge" was distinctly advertised as "winning the fight for Baghdad". There was no a tremendous increase in the numbers of rural soldiery... the increase in forces and distribution of those forces was in Baghdad. How soon we forget that the fight for Baghdad was the main effort in the fight. The then commander-in-chief was quite clear that Baghdad had to be secured. The commanders in the country side had to make do were publicly encouraged to finally recruit, train, arm, pay and support the locals. The surge was an economy of force mission that created a flexible-operational reserve to support this or that province/commander if required. But the focus was always to win back Baghdad.

Does anyone even remember the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC)? The 101st under the command of then MG Petraeus introduced the ICDC concept in Mosul that in time would become a theater wide initiative under different names. The concept was subsumed in the "awakening", Sons of Iraq, tribal counsels, etc, etc, "surge" narrative.

What do we think is going to happen now in Astan? Will Gen P and his trusted staff revert back to what they know and are comfortable with? Start looking for the Astan equivalent of the ICDC and watch it evolve.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 06/26/2010 - 2:26pm


One: I am aware of the agreement cited in para 1. We can be dress things up any way we want. The fact of the matter is that we pulled out of the cities and LEFT THE ENEMY INTACT. Don't believe me? Then let's go back into the cities and see what happens.

Two: I am aware of the benefits of the surge. The fact is, we should have been "surging" as soon as we got to Baghdad, and many advocated that we do this upon arrival. Instead, we adopted a "ride around in a jeep and get blown up" strategy that lasted for three years, and Petraeus was part of that jeep strategy as well. Only after three years of this did we decide to take the fight to the enemy via the surge, and that was short-lived. We stopped the surge midway and pulled out of the cities into the countryside. Those are the facts. We have won nothing.

Three: Like I said before, the insurgents' main objective have been met - we left the urban areas. That is indisputable.


Please read the first paragraph of this article to refresh your memory that we did not pull out of Iraqi cities into the countryside in defeat:

Elsewhere in the archives is an article interviewing key Marine and Army leaders involved in talks with the tribal chiefs in Iraq. The interviewees were mostly Majors and above dealing with Iraqi tribal leaders who were fewer in number, more educated, and more influential over broader areas than the multiple tribal, qawm, city warlords, and village elder chiefs of Afghanistan.

You don't appear to recall how bad the casualties were getting in 2006 and 2007 until the surge and Anbar Awakening. Courageous Iraqis, Marines and Army, subordinates and field grade troops, generals and diplomats can all take appropriate credit.

Afghanistan is different, but we still don't have anywhere near the number of personnel, equipment, or money involved in AfPak that was in Iraq during its surge.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 06/26/2010 - 12:59pm


No I am afraid it is a rewrite of history that the Petraeus strategy "worked." In fact it is a PSYOP in itself in attempting to get us to believe we won in Iraq.

We did bloody the insurgents during the surge, but we did not defeat them. Instead we simply pulled out of the cities into the countryside and essentially said "no más" a la Roberto Duran. The insurgents' main objective was met, and that was to get us out of the cities. So you see, they won, not us. Spin it any way you want with whatever PSYOP technique you have available, but the truth is obvious to us realists.

As for the tribal cooperation, Petraeus didn't have anything to do with that, nor did any of the brass. The tribal cooperation was done at the O-3 level by Army and Marines on their own initiative who were there on the ground. The cowardly brass said, "you are on your own" and distanced themselves from this, but then they readily took credit for it when it proved successful - classic Courtney Massengale style. However, co'opted tribesmen has not led to the defeat of the insurgents because there has been no defeat of the insurgents. The insurgents are still there. Again, if we were to go back into the cities, our casualties would increase and we would get chewed up because of our overly restrictive Romeos.

I agree with your last paragraph.

AFG is a rural insurgency. We can't pull the converse of Iraq by retreating into the cities being that rural insurgencies typically grow and then capture the cities as their endgame (Cuba, Nicaragua). Whereas an urban insurgency doesn't follow an enemy out into the countryside, i.e, Iraq. The only way to quash the AFG rural insurgency is to use the Rios Montt approach from Guatemala. We don't have the stomach for that kind of approach.

Best endgame for us is to carve a permanent redoubt for ourselves out of AFG territory and to let whoever is in power in AFG know that if another 9/11 happens with their sponsorship, that their people will be punished with a massive strike from the redoubt. Unfortunately, we have stepped into an Israel redoubt type situation. If we would have NOT pussyfooted around at Khost and Tora Bora, this thing could have ended nicely as a punitive expedition.

TSAfabet (not verified)

Sat, 06/26/2010 - 12:15pm

To Anonymous:

If you can see no evidence of the success of Petraeus' strategy, you must be blind.

Yes, Iraq was far more urban than Afghanistan but the difference (so far) between the two is that the C-in-C allowed Petraeus to go after insurgents at will. There was no "capitulation" of any kind in Iraq. Marines and Soldiers sealed off and then occupied neighborhoods in Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, and elsewhere in a concerted effort to drive out insurgents and provide 24/7 security to the people. As Capt. Smith has pointed out time and again at it was only after the Marines beat down the insurgents and cooperating tribes that tribal leaders such as Abu Risha Sattari were willing to ally with the American effort.

By contrast, in Afghanistan, our forces are still largely confined to the huge, FOB's (with the exception of the Marines in Helmand Province). This is not COIN. It is the early strategy of Iraq which emphasized force-protection and "commuting to the battle" in lieu of combat outposts and joint security stations. We have not seen anything like this so far in Afghanistan.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 06/25/2010 - 5:41pm

"The counterinsurgency strategy championed by his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, works."

I see no evidence it has "worked." We left the battlefield by pulling out of the cities and parking out in the countryside. How is that a "victory?" If we were to go back into the urban areas, we would see that the insurgents are still there and they would start raising our casualty count again. Iraq is a urban insurgency and we simply capitulated while at the same time pouring money into their economy. They must be laughing at us.

Tyler Sweatt (not verified)

Fri, 06/25/2010 - 10:56am

I think the key here is that the two inputs required for success (time and patience)are exactly what we seem to be lacking.
There has been much debate on whether a COIN strategy will work in Afghanistan, and where to implement it (tribes, districts, etc), but most of that may be moot as we seem far too impatient to implement anything resembling a true COIN timeline (Briggs-ish).
While I was surpised to see Gen Petraeus move to AFG, and think that he is more than capable to run the war, I am not sure if it matters as much as it would have 3 years ago. We are already looking for the door..