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Petraeus Goes Before the Senate

Gen. David Petraeus, the newly nominated Afghan commander, goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning in what is expected to be a breeze of a confirmation hearing. Regrettably, much of the questioning from senators will undoubtedly focus on the issue of timelines and July 2011 when U.S. forces are to begin withdrawing.

Hopefully one or two senators will ask some relevant questions such as: How Petraeus plans to knock the insurgency on its heels before next summer? Also, what exactly is his campaign plan and will it differ from that of former commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal? How will Petraeus measure success over the next year, and which metrics, (e.g. body counts, IED attacks), will he use to show whether or not ISAF has reversed insurgent momentum?

The current ISAF campaign plan, which was provided to CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman, (worth a close read by the way), shows a military command struggling to define success against a maddeningly resilient insurgent enemy and somehow re-craft the public narrative of the war to prevent public abandonment of the whole effort.

In the wake of the failed Marja offensive, McChrystal and the ISAF staff realized that they must redefine expectations to realize “strategic patience” through at least 2015, the ISAF brief shows. The briefing says ISAF has “bet the war on”:

• Credible success in Kandahar in 2010-11

• Salvaging Marja and showing progress in Helmand

• Beginning to reverse insurgent momentum in most of the country by mid-2011, not merely halting it.

• Make significant progress towards a credible transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces.

• Having Pakistan as a credible partner.

ISAF’s current campaign metrics are too limited in timeframe and don’t adequately recognize the ability of the insurgents to endure and adapt, the brief says. It acknowledges:
• There is no way to anticipate how well insurgent structure evolves, mutate and adapt over time.

• Insurgents clearly recognize, however, tat they are fighting a war of political attrition against a weak, corrupt and incapable Karzai government and limited U.S. and ISAF patience.

• Maoist experience in China only one of many cases where insurgents rode out long series of defeats to win.

• “Clear, hold, and build” can become 5-plus year campaigns of shadow networks, reinfiltration, shifts in area, stay behinds.

Lots of questions on the way ahead for the U.S. and ISAF; we’ll be tuning in to the hearing this morning to see if Petraeus provides any answers.

-- Greg Grant

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