Capital suggestion: A new general

Dr Farrukh Saleem

CENTCOM will soon have a new general. The new general is a soldier, a manager and a philosopher — all rolled into one. The new general wears four stars on his shoulders and 11 US military decorations, nine US badges, patches and tabs on his chest. General David Howell Petraeus has a war to fight but only one combat brigade to fight it with.

America isn’t winning. British commanders now insist “America can’t win.” General Petraeus has been studying asymmetric warfare for some two decades (an asymmetric war is where the military strengths of adversaries differs significantly; a guerrilla war, for instance). Before coming to CENTCOM, he was the Commanding General Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I).

Here’s what General Petraeus did in Iraq: In early 2007, Petraeus deployed an additional 20,000 American soldiers and extended the tour of duty of 4,000 Marines already in Iraq (this deployment of additional troops came to be known as the “surge”). The “surge” brought into Iraq five additional American brigades. Along with the “surge,” Petraeus crafted “Sons of Iraq,” an ad hoc Sunni militia that first rejected insurgent leaders and then went on to inflict serious damage on Al Qaeda. Along with the “surge” and the “Sons of Iraq,” Petraeus co-opted Iran.

Here’s what Petraeus achieved in Iraq: Within seven months of the “surge,” violence in Iraq had gone down markedly. In Iraq, Al Qaeda has lost both on the physical as well as the ideological front. By June 2008, coalition casualties in Afghanistan were higher than those in Iraq. As America’s war focus moved from Iraq to Afghanistan, the US Senate, on July 10, confirmed General Petraeus after a 95-2 vote as the new Commanding General CENTCOM. (Petraeus is scheduled to take over CENTCOM on Oct 31.)

What is Petraeus going to do in Afghanistan? Remember, this general has been a student of unconventional warfare for 20 long years. Remember, his thesis “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam” earned him a PhD from Princeton.

To begin with, Petraeus has asked for more soldiers; an additional combat brigade is coming in by the end of the year and two more combat brigades by the summer of next year (a “surge” in Afghanistan; just what the general did in Iraq). Look what Petraeus has already achieved: On Sept 24, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, broke his fast with 11 Taliban delegates, two Karzai-government officials, a representative of Gulbadeen Hekmatyar and three others.

America’s new Afghan strategy aims at causing a split between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While this split is being manoeuvred, Petraeus is going to get three additional combat brigades — a “surge” in Afghanistan — so that he can negotiate from a position of strength. Additionally, tribal militias are being formed — and encouraged — to take on both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

To be certain, Al Qaeda has transnational ambitions, the Taliban do not. Al Qaeda threatens mainland USA, the Taliban do not. America can live with the Taliban but not with Al Qaeda.

Petraeus succeeded in Iraq. Afghanistan promises to be a tougher nut to crack. There is also the danger that Afghanistan may become the new proxy battleground between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Coincidently, Saudi Arabia would also like a Taliban-Al Qaeda split. Pakistan now has a window of opportunity, both an economic and a strategic one. The $5.9 billion Saudi Oil Facility for Pakistan, it seems, is also tied to Pakistan’s support of Saudi Arabia’s newly-unveiled counter-insurgency strategy.

P.S. According to the Telegraph, “President Asif Ali Zardari needs a mere £6 billion to avoid defaulting on Pakistan’s debts and stave off the immediate threat of bankruptcy. This sum is only 0.3 percent of the £2 trillion amount now devoted to saving the global financial system. For the amount that Britain is prepared to spend to salvage its banks — £500 billion — Pakistan could be rescued no less than 83 times over.”

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist.

Source: The News, 19/10/2008

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