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Petraeus Has Key Job As New US Iraq Commander

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Along with his new Iraq strategy and troop increase, President Bush has named a new commander for U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. He is Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the man who has spent the last year supervising the re-writing of the army's counterinsurgency manual. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin reports on the officer who, if the Senate approves his assignment, will have the pivotal job in the effort to prevent the violence in Iraq from spiraling out of control.

General Petraeus is known as one of the army's top intellectuals. He has a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University and is a prolific writer on military issues. He says his education helps him "ask the right questions." But he is also an experienced field commander, having led the famed 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During a speech in Washington in November, before his appointment, General Petraeus offered some insight into the type of leader he strives to be.

He said, "All of our wonderful soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines deserve the best leaders our nation can provide, leaders who can deal with the complexities of the situation in which we are operating today."

"Such leaders must, by necessity, be competent war fighters, and then some, intelligent, aggressive, creative and physically and mentally tough soldier-statesmen," he added.

"Soldier-statesman" is the approach he brought to his command in northern Iraq in 2003, where he prided himself on aggressively hunting insurgents during the nights, and conducting humanitarian and economic development operations during the days.

"We were able to sort of build during the day, we called it, and pick up bad guys at night," said General Petraeus.

That approach is believed to have worked well, and it is built into the new counterinsurgency manual he and his staff wrote last year. It is an approach he is expected to put to the test in Baghdad and other troubled parts of Iraq when he arrives in the midst of the new security operation President Bush announced on Wednesday. The general's arrival date has not yet been set.

One of his co-authors on the manual was retired lieutenant-colonel Conrad Crane, who now teaches at the army's War College.

"The dominant theme in the manual really is learning and adapting," he said. "And I think that will be the key to success in an environment as dynamic and complex as Iraq."

Crane was a classmate of General Petraeus at the U.S. Military Academy in the early 1970s, and he says the general is the right man for the difficult assignment in Iraq.

He said, "It's a complicated situation over there, and I think he's the most capable commander that we've got available right now to try to handle it. If anybody can fix the problem, he's the one that can do it. General Petraeus has the unique combination. He's got intellect. He's got passion. He's got the military acumen. But he's also got the intellectual, analytical skills."

That evaluation has been echoed by many retired military officers, and by analysts like Danielle Pletka at the American Enterprise Institute.

"He is a very impressive man," she said. "He understands what is necessary. He is a man, who wants to see the United States win on the ground, and he wants to do what it takes to win."

General Petraeus is not speaking publicly until his new assignment is confirmed by the Senate. But the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, told a Senate committee Friday that General Petraeus believes the new Iraq security plan is the right approach to bringing the violence under control.

"General Petraeus, in his current role, responsible for doctrine on counterinsurgency operations, has been consulting with the generals in Iraq. And he is very much on board with this," said General Pace.

If approved by the Senate, Lieutenant General Petraeus will become a relatively young full, four-star general at age 54. People who know him attribute his rapid rise to his intellectual rigor, physical toughness and competitive nature.

His confidence has alienated some people along the way, but he has also spoken of the value of what he calls "intellectual humility" for people who have weighty responsibilities.

In addition, General Petraeus will bring to his new job a detailed knowledge of the Iraqi army, which will be at the center of the Baghdad security operation. He spent a second year in Iraq managing the training of that army in 2004 and 2005.

Many leaders in the Bush administration and the Congress are looking to General Petraeus to salvage the situation in Iraq, and create enough stability for a U.S. withdrawal to begin. It is a huge job, and even senior military officers who helped develop the president's new Iraq strategy acknowledge that the outcome of the effort is far from certain.

In his speech in November, General Petraeus indicated he will not sugar-coat whatever happens in Iraq.

"Our job is to be forthright, I think, and to provide an accurate assessment of the situation," he said.

Members of Congress in particular will be eager for that in his confirmation hearing, expected during the next few weeks, and even more so after he has had some time back on the ground in Iraq.

 

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