Kabul, Afghanistan — In his first six weeks as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus has seen insurgent attacks on coalition forces spike to record levels, violence metastasize to previously stable areas, and the country’s president undercut anti-corruption units backed by Washington.
But after burrowing into operations here and traveling to the far reaches of this country, Petraeus has concluded that the U.S. strategy to win the nearly nine-year-old war is “fundamentally sound.”
In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with The Washington Post, he said he sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the volatile south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting.
With public support for the war slipping and a White House review of the war looming in December, Petraeus said he is pushing the forces under his command to proceed with alacrity. He remains supportive of President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing troops next July, but he said it is far too early to determine the size of the drawdown.
“We are doing everything we can to achieve progress as rapidly as we can without rushing to failure,” Petraeus said in his wood-paneled office at the NATO headquarters in Kabul. “We’re keenly aware that this has been ongoing for approaching nine years. We fully appreciate the impatience in some quarters.”
But he warned against expecting quick results in a campaign that involves building Afghan government and security institutions from scratch, and convincing people to cast their lot with coalition forces after years of broken promises — all in the face of Taliban intimidation and attacks.