Interview with General David Petraeus, Commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
By Michael Miklaucic, CCO Research Director, Editor of PRISM
On March 18, 2011, the Center for Complex Operations interviewed General David Petraeus. The conversation focused on the current counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, interagency coordination and capabilities, and lessons learned from stabilization and reconstruction operations.
PRISM: Recent polling shows that 2/3 of Americans don’t believe the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting anymore. What makes you think it is worth fighting?
Petraeus: 9/11. I think it is important to remember that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan by al?Qaeda when the Taliban controlled the bulk of the country. That the initial training of the attackers was carried out in Afghanistan in al?Qaeda training camps prior to them moving on to Germany and then to US flight schools. And, it is a vital national security interest for our country that Afghanistan not once again become a sanctuary for al?Qaeda or other transnational extremists of that type.
PRISM: In your prepared statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee you stated that the core objective is to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t again become a sanctuary for alQaeda. What makes you think that a Taliban led Afghanistan would permit alQaeda to return?
Petraeus: First of all they did it before. Past history does show that there is a strong connection between the Afghan Taliban, or the Quetta Shura Taliban, and al?Qaeda. We know that there is a relationship that does continue and we think there is a strong likelihood, especially if al?Qaeda is under continued, very strong pressure in its sanctuaries in the tribal area of Pakistan, that it would be looking for other sanctuaries, and that Afghanistan will once again be attractive to it.
PRISM: Beyond denying Afghanistan to alQaeda, what do you believe are our responsibilities to the Afghan people with respect to the kind of state we leave behind?
Petraeus: First of all, to achieve our core objective in Afghanistan, we need to enable Afghanistan to be able to secure itself and to govern itself. It is up to Afghanistan, needless to say, to determine how to operationalize those concepts, particularly with respect to governance but I think we can be reassured by developments in that regard, as reflected in their constitution. For example, the fact that there are ten percent more women in their Parliament than are in the US Congress; that thirtyseven percent of the 8.2 million students in Afghan schools this school year, this academic year, are female. By the way, that contrasts with virtually none during the Taliban time when there were less than a million in school overall. And in a number of areas in which again there are progressive steps that have resulted from the new constitution and the new Afghanistan.
PRISM: Do you believe that we have any ongoing commitment or responsibility to ensure that there is forward progress in democratic governance once we leave, militarily?
Petraeus: To be candid, I think that is probably a topic for the policymakers. Having said that, I do think that, needless to say, given our belief that stability comes from government that is representative of and responsive to the people, that we would like to see those characteristics resident in Afghan governance.
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