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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Petraeus Pushes All-Round Effort on Pakistan

WASHINGTON (CN) - General David Petraeus stressed an all-inclusive and expensive approach to stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan while testifying before a House appropriations subcommittee Friday, saying, "You cannot kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency."

Despite his support for diplomacy and civilian projects in conjunction with military efforts, protesters held up signs reading "$7.1 billion for diplomacy, $78 billion for war!" One was later arrested when she interrupted Petraeus, U.S. Army Commander of U.S. Central Command.

The United States has more than 215,000 troops in the Middle East, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is quickly sending more to Afghanistan. But, said Petraeus, "Additional forces will only be of value if deployed properly, if we are good guests."

We are currently seen as helpers and not invaders, said Petraeus, but we walk a fine line. To erode this perception, the Taliban often create conditions where there is a high prospect of civilian casualties, he explained.

This is why the general has supplied language and cultural education to troops, and bolstered the military's use of cultural experts. "Achieving U.S. goals and objectives," he said, "involves more than just the traditional application of military power."

This is where we've been lacking. Petraeus told his story about invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the invasion, he turned around. "Where are all the experts? Where are all the assistants?" he asked.

Without assistance, the military was ultimately in charge of nation building, which was not only an issue of image, but a pragmatic problem as well. He said providing civilian services detracted from the primary role of the military, which is to provide security.

He explained how this combination of military force, diplomacy, and civilian services would assist in hopefully stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Afghanistan and Pakistan pose the most urgent problem," he said.

In Afghanistan, irrigation destroyed during years of warfare is being rebuilt to reestablish what was once a thriving agricultural economy. Contractors are paving roads so farmers get their products to market, and healthcare and education have been significantly improved. Although, the country still has 70 to 80 percent illiteracy.

Alternative agriculture to poppies will play "an enormous role" in stabilizing Afghanistan because illegal narcotics are the second or third largest source of income for insurgents. Fighting the drug economy is one area where we have a common interest with Iran and Russia, said Petraeus.

He nonetheless underlined the difficulties in succeeding in Afghanistan. The porous border with Pakistan is still being used by insurgents to launch attacks and transport weapons, violence has increased, and low literacy and education bars police and civilians from reading and understanding the laws they are supposed to follow and enforce.

"There will be nothing easy about the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Petraeus.

In Pakistan the Taliban took control of two towns on Thursday, bringing them within 60 miles of Islamabad, said Representative John Carter, a Texas republican. "Internal extremists are the most pressing threat Pakistan faces right now," said Petraeus. "Unfortunately, many Pakistani leaders remain focused on India as Pakistan's principal threat, and some may even continue to regard certain extremist groups as potential strategic assets against India."

As a nuclear-armed country, Pakistan is a huge liability if the government is overrun or destabilized. In an effort to assist Pakistan, the U.S. will provide training and equipment such as night vision goggles.

Petraeus took the time to outline other U.S. challenges.

The situation in Iraq has significantly improved since a peak of violence in 2007 when 1,500 violent crimes were reported a week. For the last five months, less than 150 violent crimes have been reported per week. The nation, which now has 600,000 of its own security forces, also held successful provincial elections in January.

But Petraeus called the gains "fragile and reversible." He cited continuing sectarian divisions, tensions between political parties, and ethnic mistrust. This could all explode again this spring, when the Iraqi government tackles the controversial issue of disputed Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen territories. Such ethnic violence could spread to neighboring countries, he warned.

Low oil prices have led to budget problems, and funds towards reconstruction and security have been hampered. Petraeus added that Iraqi security forces have let their guard down amongst a decrease in violence, taking down walls and sandbags that should be left.

For Iran, Petraeus wants the U.S. to send a special envoy.

"It is the major state-based threat to regional stability," he said. The country equips and finances Hamas and Hizballah, as well as other insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Petraeus said frustrates our efforts to stabilize the region. Iran's perceived pursuit of nuclear weapons will spur a regional arms race, explained Petraeus.

In reaction to Iran's hostility, however, countries in the region have sought closer relations with the U.S. Petraeus said that even Syria, an ally of Iran, could potentially partner with the United States because its motives to permit the transport of arms and militants through its territory are not ideological. Ultimately, it's in the best interest of Syria to reject insurgents, he explained. They aren't immune.

Another more recent international problem is pirating off the coast of Somalia. Pirates are now found as far as 450 nautical miles offshore.

The solution lies primarily with the maritime shipping industry, he said, which hasn't bothered to instill simple deterrents. Shipping companies haven't given security a priority because such a small proportion gets pirated.

Petraeus joked about the idea of using fire hoses to deter pirates. "It's tough to be on the end of a water-hose if the other person is on the end of a roc

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