“I think it’s too early to know very much,” said Mr. Biddle, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The obvious point is, the surge isn’t even all deployed yet. The broader point is, counterinsurgency as a form of warfare always has a darkest-before-the-dawn quality to it.
“When you expand your area of operation and begin contesting insurgent control of populated areas, violence goes up,” he said. “And it goes up whether things are going well or things are going badly.”
Gen. Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week and urged patience. The backdrop: The U.S. death toll is increasing, some NATO allies plan to pull out next year, more members of Congress are speaking out against the war’s cost of more than $300 billion, and press reports from the field are generally negative.
The hearing room scene was somewhat similar to 2007, when the four-star general tried to convince a politically charged Congress that included then-Sen. Barack Obama that the Iraq surge was beginning to work. He was right then, and is asking lawmakers a second time to stick with him.
“The conduct of a counterinsurgency operation is a roller-coaster experience,” he testified on Wednesday. “There are setbacks as well as areas of progress or successes. It is truly an up and down, when you’re living it, when you’re doing it, even from afar, frankly. But their trajectory, in my view, has generally been upward, despite the tough losses, despite the setbacks.”
Part of the negative press stemmed from Gen. McChrystal telling reporters in Brussels on June 10 he was delaying the overall offensive around Kandahar. The city stands as the Taliban’s birthplace, from which it rose to power in the 1990s and formed an alliance with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
“We’re moving at a deliberate pace toward decisive operations in the fall rather than summer because we don’t want to rush the political process that the security effort supports,” Col. Sholtis said.
The spokesman said right now security forces are using an “inside-out” approach in Kandahar, as Afghan police and NATO soldiers are trying to secure Kandahar to make Taliban bombings and ambushes more difficult to carry out.
“Later in the summer and fall, we’ll step up counterinsurgency operations with army and police units to secure the districts bordering the city,” he said.
Col. Sholtis said the surge is designed to produce decisive effects in key areas and to reverse the insurgents’ momentum. It also seeks to set the conditions for the transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan government, he said.
“Regardless of when security forces are ready to conduct operations, and many are ready now, it makes little sense to launch operations now simply because we can,” Col. Sholtis said. “We have to have the governance and development pieces in place to cement those expected security gains.”
Said Gen. McChrystal: “Unlike conventional military operations where you circle a hill on the map and then you take the hill, when you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them. And so we’ve got to do that shaping process to get that right.”
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