Petraeus says civilian endeavors important in war strategy
Mark A. Philbrick, BYU
PROVO — Before Gen. David Petraeus revised the Army's counterinsurgency manual, there was one line that said, "Money is the best ammunition in counterinsurgency."
"Well, not if you're being shot at," Petraeus told the Deseret News Thursday before his lecture at BYU. "So we qualified it. Now, it's something like, 'Money can be among the best.' I added a caveat, because real ammunition is really useful if you're really being shot at."
As a four-star general and leader of U.S. Central Command, Petraeus has seen his share of bullets.
And while bullets are a crucial component of any battle, he said, so are reconciliation strategies and reconstruction plans.
"You cannot kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency," he told a packed audience at BYU in an update on CENTCOM activities.
"It's about civilian endeavors, getting at the reason that part of the population … might be given to join extremist elements and why the conditions might prompt that."
One example of civilian endeavors was a battle in early 2008, when within 24 hours, troops in Iraq went from defeating the local militia to reconstructing the city and providing humanitarian assistance.
That ability to build, not just destroy, is helpful for troops' morale, Petraeus told the Deseret News.
"We often talk about what is it that keeps our troopers raising their right hand … to re-enlist," Petraeus said. "And I think it's because they realize the importance of what they're doing. Seeing the effects of their work in local levels … is pretty heartening."
After his initial remarks, Petraeus — who previously commanded the 101st Airborne Division and the Multi-National Force - Iraq — took questions from the audience.
Two lengthy lines immediately formed, and Petraeus deftly shifted from discussing nuclear proliferation in Iran to the problem of creeping militarization and to counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan.
His comments will be rebroadcast on KBYU 11 and BYUtv. Petraeus also sat down for an interview with KSL-TV's Bruce Lindsay, which will be shown at 9 a.m. Sunday on "Sunday Edition."
The general has been visiting college campuses across the nation to answer questions about the progress and challenges of the U.S. Military in the CENTCOM region, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and 17 other countries in the Middle East. He came to BYU at the invitation of retired Gen. Amos Jordan, a senior fellow with BYU's Wheatley Institution and a former West Point professor and department head.
One student asked if it's a responsible policy to avoid civilian casualties if it puts American troops in danger.
"You cannot have tactical successes that are strategic defeats," Petraeus responded, citing a report from Afghanistan where 40 to 50 Taliban were killed, but so were a few dozen innocent civilians.
"It almost cut the entire strategic knees (out from under us)," he said. "You cannot do that. Now, having said that, we will never tie our soldiers' hands behind their backs. Those on the ground, we will always back them with what is required. But we want them to think through certain situations."
Afghanistan is complicated for different reasons than Iraq, Petraeus said, with an illiteracy rate near 70 percent and a lack of oil and financial resources.
"We're not going to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in two years or less," Petraeus said.
The goal in the next 18 months is to set up government structures that are viewed as legitimate and worthy of the support of the people.
Troops engaged in these tasks develop a "brotherhood of the close fight," whether it's between Americans or between Americans and local troops, Petraeus said.
"Our soldiers are seen in the eyes of many partner nations … as sort of the Michael Jordans of the military," he told the Deseret News.
Petraeus said U.S. troops' knee pads would always slip down around their ankles, a "fashion trend" quickly adopted by Iraqi troops wanting to be more like U.S. soldiers.
"There were some really special relationships that built up," Petraeus said. "Even generals have counterparts and friends. I go back and see them and realize what we went through together. Those were pretty horrific times."
From earlier months in Iraq with 53 dead bodies in the streets each day, Petraeus has seen dramatic reductions in violence, two successful elections and Iraqis who feel safe going out to amusement parks and rowing their boats on the Tigris River.
His 50,000 troops who remain in Iraq after August will change their focus to an advisory role, while his additional troops in Afghanistan will continue the difficult task of eliminating terrorist havens and promoting internal strength and structure.
Progress in Iraq is not irreversible, Petraeus said, but the country looks better now than it did when he first got there — seven years and two stars ago.
"I always talk about progress, not victory or defeat," Petraeus said. "These are always works in progress."
Gen. David Petraeus' remarks at BYU will be rebroadcast several times in the coming week:
2 p.m. Sunday
2 p.m. Monday
8 p.m. Wednesday
10 p.m. Thursday, April 1
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