News / Asia

New Afghan War Commander Briefs NATO Officials

General David Petraeus, the newly appointed commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has briefed alliance officials in Brussels on his plans for the war effort.  Petraeus met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Thursday, and addressed ambassadors of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top decision-making body.

He pledged progress in the war and reiterated the alliance's efforts to do everything possible to reduce civilian casualites.  The general also warned of tough fighting in the months to come. His visit comes just one day after the U.S. senate unanimously confirmed him as the new Afghan war commander.

Next, the general travels to Afghanistan, where he will take command of around 140,000 U.S and NATO soldiers who are at a critical junction in the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy to defeat the Taliban, rebuild the country and trust among the war-weary population.  

Based on the success he helped guide in Iraq in 2007, VOA Pentagon correspondent Al Pessin says General Petraeus is ideally suited for the delicate task of working with U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry, President Hamid Karzai and leaders of the more than 40 coalition partners in Afghanistan.

"General Petraeus is one of the most politically and diplomatically experienced officers in the U.S. military, much more so than General McChrystal, on a par more or less with Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So, he is very much aware that he has to deal with those issues. He's also aware of the fact that he is not the lead person on those issues.  That's more Ambassador [Karl] Eikenberry's ballywig [territory], " Pessin said. "But General Petraeus has to play a very delicate role of being a leader to some extent on those issues, but not being the number one on those issues."

The general is taking over amidst big expectations and a complex set of problems said
Christopher Snedden, Director of the Australia-based consultancy Asia Calling.

"It's much more tribal down south. There's not the insurgency problems up in the north because there are different groups up there, Uzbeks and Tajiks and various other people. But the Pashtuns down in the south, they are the ones that have to be placated. And to placate them is going to be very, very difficult." Snedden said. "And also, unlike Iraq perhaps, Pakistan and certainly those tribal areas in Pakistan are much more important in allowing groups like the Haqqani network to operate from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] of Pakistan.  And while Iran did support elements within Iraq, it wasn't able to so to same extent I don't think as those people in FATA are able to do with the Taliban."

To be successful, General Petraeus must win the hearts of minds of the people, a process he warns could take years, according to  Amin Saikal, Director of Arab and Muslim Studies at Australia National University.  But Saikal points out the problem of winning over the population is made more difficult by what he calls the dysfunctional and corrupt Kabul government, which he says has created a political vacuum exploited by the Taliban.

Saikal suggests a government overhaul is needed to address those thorny issues.

"It would have to be changed into a parliamentary system of government, which would be more responsive to a country so socially divided as Afghanistan. And, of course, one must not forget that Afgahnistan in many ways historically has been the land of the 'strongman' and these actors will have to be locked into a national system of obligations and responsibilities. That can only be achieved through a parliamentary system of governance," said Saikal. "Not necessarily through a strong presidential system of governance as has been built up or put in place by President Karzai and his international supporters."

Amin Saikal also thinks it would be wise for General Petraeus to support a regional conference on Afghanistan's future that might include the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, along with Afghanistan's neighbors, as well as countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.  

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