Strategy moving forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan will involve wooing over malleable elements of the Taliban, Gen. David Petraeus said this afternoon, and the situation in that troubled region is likely to worsen before getting better.
“You don’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency,” Petraeus said during an address at Harvard. “You have to identify who are truly the hardcore [Taliban elements].”
Part of the successful troop “surge” in Iraq meant publicly acknowledging defeat, a reversal from previous strategy, Petraeus said.
“We were not going to put lipstick on pigs,” Petraeus said at Harvard a Kennedy School Forum event designed to honor the school’s veterans. “If things were bad we were going to say things were bad.”
Petraeus took command of the U.S. Central Command in October 2008 after serving for more than 19 months as the commanding general of the multi-national force in Iraq.
Under his hand, the United States implemented a troop buildup known as a “surge,” which has been instrumental in reducing violence in that country after a spike in May 2007.
“We honestly didn’t think we could achieve what we did,” he said, citing inhospitable conditions on the ground.
Petraeus detailed what led to the success of the “surge,” saying it required troops to interact directly with Iraqis rather than patrolling neighborhoods once or twice a day.
“We had to focus on securing Iraq, and you could only do that by living with them,” Petraeus said. “You can’t commute to the fight.”
The effort also required a comprehensive approach joining military and diplomatic efforts, Petraeus said.
“You’ve got to have unity. The ambassador and I were like this,” he said, clasping his hands in front of him. “When you get your teeth into the enemy, you can’t let go. It takes relentless pursuit, which takes enormous physical, as well as mental endurance.”
Petraeus said each night he would read three to five pages of the book, “Grant Takes Command,” by John A. Rawlins, a history of former president Ulysses S. Grant’s time commanding Union forces during the last year and a half of the Civil War. From such studies he gleaned what he called “the Anaconda Strategy,” Grant’s plan for occupying Richmond, a strategy Petraeus tried to emulate in Baghdad.
Petraeus said his accessbility via email made it easy to flatten the military organization, allowing for easy communication with low-level personnel that helped contribute to the mission’s success. He said his email address was available via a non-secure list and he regularly had members of the public emailing him.
“Mothers have written to me fairly often,” he said. “We tried to answer every one of them, by the way.”