Published August 25, 2010
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: General, why should the American people give you more time here? It's been nine years. The casualties are rising. Every six months or so we hear that the White House and the Pentagon have a new strategy and that this time it's the right strategy for Afghanistan.
The Americans as you've seen are running out of patience. Why should they give you more time?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN: Well, first up, can I just say that it's good to see you back and to see you working again. And welcome back and thanks for making your first stop out here.
Second, look, I understand the frustration. I very much appreciate it. I would note as we often should I think how important the mission this year and I think that's the real heart of the issue.
That it is very much in our vital national security interest not to see Afghanistan once again become a sanctuary for transnational extremists the way it was prior to the 9/11 attacks.
Recalling that, of course, the -- those attacks were planned initially in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The training of the attackers took place in Afghanistan before they moved on to Germany and in the U.S. flight schools.
So that's the core objective here. To accomplish that, though, we obviously have to help Afghanistan be able to secure itself it and to -- to govern itself. And it has to do it -- to Afghan standards adequately that we're not trying to turn Afghanistan, as they say, into Switzerland in five years or less.
But it does have to have that capability. And the only way to do that that any of us can fathom is by doing what it is that we are attempting to do. And that is to carry out a comprehensive civil military counterinsurgency campaign.
Now it's very important to note that we've taken the last 18 months really since the beginning of 2009 to get the inputs right in Afghanistan. And they're still not completely right.
The final elements of the surge forces of President Obama ordered and announced back last December still in the process of deploying. But they're all be in the ground by the end of August and into action by early September.
And in the meantime, of course, all those other forces that have come over, the more than tripling of the U.S. forces since the beginning of 2009, the tripling of the civilians, the additional funding to enable 100,000 more Afghan national security forces. As all of that has taken place, we've obviously been working to convert the inputs into outputs.
We see the early outputs, if you will. We see the progress in Helmand Province. Hard fought as it has been. No question that the enemy fights back when you take away something as important as Marja.
It was not easy. It is still not easy. They're still fighting. They'd really like recapture that very important command-and-control mode and narcotics industry nexus with the insurgency.
But the fact is in this past week, citizens of Marja were actually able to register to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections. And that is progress. And I think our sergeant major probably captured it best -- our Major Mike Hall -- when he said that it used to be that we were reacting to the Taliban in Helmand and now they are reacting to us.
I was just there again three days ago. Walked through the streets of a city that was controlled by the Taliban five, six months ago. It's been clear to the Taliban. It's now held by a combination of Marines, Afghan army, Afghan police and citizens who want to keep the Taliban out.
There were very few citizens there. There were four shops in the market under the Taliban. There are now 200 -- well over 10,000 of the 30,000 citizens have returned and there are more coming back every day.
But it's hard fought. And it's difficult. We're not embarked on the deliberate campaign in Kandahar. The early stages of that having been at -- with targeted operations for well over three months now. And now the conventional clear, hold and build operations commencing.
We worked hard to expand the security around Kabul City itself. Keeping in mind, by the way, that -- you know, occasionally people say well, when will the Afghan forces be ready to take over the tasks, ready to lead? And the fact is they are in the lead in Kabul City.
Kabul City itself is 1/6 of the population in the entire country. So again that's a pretty significant task. And they're generally doing quite a good job.
GRIFFIN: But let me quote to you from -- back when you were testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007. And then Senator Obama said to you, "General Petraeus, in the counterinsurgency manual that you wrote, it says that even the strongest U.S. commitment will not succeed if the populous does not the perceive the host nation government of having similar will and stamina to our own."
Now we have been talking in the last 24 hours to members of commando forces who say that when they go out and make a bust for narcotics or they arrest a corrupt official, they are being then punished by the Karzai government.
How can you make progress -- the U.S. troops and NATO troops make progress if the Karzai government is undermining you at every turn?
PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I wouldn't buy that characterization. I don't at all in fact. Certainly there are cases in which there are either local or provincial or national officials who have exerted undue influence. There's no question about that.
But I don't think that anyone has alleged that President Karzai, for example, has been engaged in corrupt behavior or that he is anything but actually very forthright and very publicly saying that there is a corruption problem. It has to be dealt with and that indeed they are moving forward to do that.
He is very clear that if there is predatory activity by leaders at whatever level. If there is a lack of legitimacy of the government that he leads by the citizens of Afghanistan, obviously, that's a huge setback for our counterinsurgency campaign.
Now to come back to the United States public and really to the public of all the other 46 troop contribution nations, clearly what they need to see is further progress. I've mentioned early progress. That has to be sustained, has to be built on, has to be expanded. And they have to have a sense that the enormous investment that they're making in terms of money and troopers and in some cases casualties is worth the effort and can indeed help all of us achieve the mutual objectives we have with respect to Afghanistan.
GRIFFIN: That brings me to the July 2011 deadline that was announced by the White House. Is that helpful to you?
PETRAEUS: I think it's important to come back to the context of July 2011, have participated in the process that again developed the policy, I was present (ph) at West Point for the speech. And the message that July 2011 was meant to convey was not one that we are going to head for the exits and look for the light switch and turn it out as we head out the door. It was not about an exodus. It was really about a message of urgency.
It was a very clear statement that in July 2011, a process begins. And that process, the pace of that process is determined by conditions on the ground. And it involves transitioning tasks to Afghan forces, as we already have in Kabul City. So it's a continuation in that regard.
And then as a thinning out of our forces. If you will, the quote "responsible drawdown" of our surge forces, again, at a pace that is enabled by the conditions on the ground.
GRIFFIN: But do you think that will be happening in July 2011? General Conway, just yesterday said it won't be happening in the Marine areas.
PETRAEUS: Well I think Helmand is a very tough area, certainly. And it will still be tough in that point in time. Presumably where you're going to do the thinning out is in locations where you answer the question, can the Afghan forces do it with fewer of us there in the affirmative?
And there places, I think, that will be like that by next summer. We're literally just in the early stages. We just determined, if you will, the principles for the conduct of transitions of tasks to security forces and to governmental officials. Now we're beginning to try to lay out projections.
But we have to be careful not to get too far ahead of ourselves. We have a long time between now and then and we want to focus on progress to enable that. And that's the objective.
GRIFFIN: Now during your testimony to the Senate, you've talked about rules of engagement and reassessing the tactical directive. Since you've been out here, have you found that there is something that needs to be changed with regards to the rules of engagement or the tactical directives?
PETRAEUS: I have. First of all, the rules of engagement are fundamentally sound. They're essentially the same as we employ virtually in any kind of contingency like this, and very similar to what we had in Iraq.
The tactical directive, again, in concept, in intent, I think was sound. But I think in practice in a handful of units, perhaps, and I don't think much more than that, although it then developed a little bit of an almost methodology about it, I think. But in some units there were intervening levels of command that added to the restrictions to the tactical directive that General McChrystal published, something I supported quite strongly, actually all the way back to when General McKiernan published it in the spring of 2009. General McChrystal subsequently refined it in the summer of 2009, and then I've subsequently done that, as well.
What I've made very clear in this document -- up front -- is that no one can add further restrictions to what are in the -- those in the tactical directive -- without my approval. And that is the most substantive change that was made. And it's quite a very significant change.
GRIFFIN: When did you make that change?
PETRAEUS: Just literally in the last few weeks.
PETRAEUS: In fact, I've actually tweaked it yet one more time at the request of commanders. I think the first one was about three weeks ago or so, and then I did it again about a week and a half or two weeks - or a week ago, just to - there were some terminology in the classified portion not having to do with that restriction that I'd just mentioned.
GRIFFIN: Anything specific that you can point to that would help troopers understand that a change has occurred?
PETRAEUS: Well, yes. I've put it out to all the commanders. We gathered them all here for a commanders' conference. I discussed it with them.
In fact, that's when one of them said, well, you know, Sir, you could still clarify these even a bit more if you address this particular topic. And so I looked at that. It made sense, and I did that, subsequently.
GRIFFIN: Now, there was this obvious leak through WikiLeaks, this dump of information that - some of it raw intelligence, threat assessments that included reports on Iranian involvement in Afghanistan, including issues such as that the Iranians, as far back as 2005, were paying up to $1,700 for an Afghan soldier killed, $3,000 or more for an Afghan official killed. That they're - in 2007, there were examples of heat seeking missiles used that fought down a Chinook helicopter.
Are you seeing increased Iranian involvement here in Afghanistan? And what - what are you noticing since you're back here?
PETRAEUS: First, let me just talk about what was in - in WikiLeaks and beyond the fact that that was absolutely reprehensible and a betrayal of trust and lots of other very pejorative descriptions, and it literally put at risk some of those who were working with us here and elsewhere -
GRIFFIN: Has anybody's life been lost as a result of that leak?
PETRAEUS: I'm not aware of any, but certainly there is concern, again, about the use of both source names and, in some cases, actual names.
Beyond that, let's remember that what this was, was not finished intelligence. This is not analysis. This was a series of largely first reports, and first reports, as you well know, are often not correct, and some of those that you just mentioned, I don't think were proven out over time.
Having said that, there is no question that Iran has over the years - and we think does continue - to provide a modicum of assistance to the Taliban, but not an enormous amount. Certainly not as much as they provided to the militia extremist in Iraq as an example, nor as lethal weaponry or explosives or other devices and so forth. So our sense is that they're provided -
You know, they don't love the Taliban either. They don't want to see Sunni ultraconservative extremists take over control of whole or part of Afghanistan, again, as they did prior to 9/11. It's a Shia country. They don't want to see that kind of development here, but they also don't want to see the coalition succeed too easily, and they also certainly want to have influence in politics, and a number of Afghans have noted recently that there's been quite a degree of Iranian activity in what you might call campaign contributions to some of those that they think might be favorable to them.
GRIFFIN: But would you say that this money that supposedly went to the Hezbi Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group, that that ended up not being true in the end?
PETRAEUS: I - that, I'm actually not familiar with that specific one.
GRIFFIN: OK. What about the -
PETRAEUS: But there's no question, again, in - and that's quite some time back, I think.
GRIFFIN: Yes, it is.
PETRAEUS: Any contact that they had with the HIG.
But, again, I think there's much more credible - credibility in the way of the assessments that they are seeking to influence the upcoming parliamentary elections, as are some others, by the way, in the region.
GRIFFIN: Have there been any weapons caches from Iran that you've found in Taliban hands recently?
PETRAEUS: Not in - not in recent months. There were - over the years, there have been, and in fact during the time that I was sent to counter them (ph). In fact, even back when I was the commander in Iraq, I remember sharing intelligence with the commander in the ground at the time, General Dan McNeill, because they had just found some Iranian weaponry they wanted to compare with what it was that we were contending with in Iraq. But nothing substantial in recent months.
GRIFFIN: And do you have any evidence that some of the violence in the north might be inspired by Iranian support?
GRIFFIN: No? OK.
Do you - how do you feel - you - going back to that day in the White House where you - suddenly your faith - faith turned and you had to come out here. And were there any negotiations with the White House about what it was you would or wouldn't do out here? I mean, did you have a - do you have an understanding that you can stay and do what you need to do to finish the job here? I mean, how much negotiating was there?
PETRAEUS: Well, there wasn't negotiating. I mean, when the President asks you as - the President and the Commander in Chief to take on a mission, there is only one answer for somebody in uniform, and that was the answer that I gave. And it was a bit of a - it was more than a bit of a surprise, frankly. I mean, if - I'd love to have alerted my wife to it, frankly. I sent her a text message right after that, and, unfortunately, she was in a meeting and didn't get it until after I think the news channels had the announcement in the Rose Garden.
But there was a discussion, certainly, of what he wants from a military commander, and it was very simple. He says I want your best professional military advice as the commander in Afghanistan, not as someone who's trying to read the tea leaves in Washington or in the United States as a whole. You know, the politics or his purview and, again, military advice from the ground is what he expects from me.
And I think that's the way the process should work. I think, in fact, we have an obligation to do that, and certainly you have to be aware of the context within which you offer your professional military advice, forthright advice. And that - that's informed, that advice, to some degree, but it doesn't drive it. What has to drive your advice has to be the situation on the ground, and I think, again, we have an obligation to the American people, to our troopers, to all the troop-contributing nations, not to mention our Afghan partners, to provide that.
GRIFFIN: I read recently that you are reading a book on General Grant. What books are you reading right now? And why were you reading the book on General Grant? I under - it had to do with history and how history had treated General Grant.
PETRAEUS: Well, I read it because someone sent it to me, actually. In fact, a professor from USC saw that I had an issue - or an interest in General Grant and history's depiction of him, and he sent me a book by a UCLA professor that indeed address that very subject. And it's something -
I'd also had an interest conversation with Professor Sean Wilentz at Princeton University when I was back there this spring, way before I ever thought I was coming back out here, I might add. And it - it was just - it's just a very interesting, almost a social commentary on our country, but it always comes back, of course, to what Grant did during some very difficult times for our country. I - and I, having read in Iraq, as you may recall, Grant takes command and found quite a bit of inspiration in how he sort hung tough in the face of considerable adversity and various challenges. I don't want to liken in any respect, or to take -- people interpret that there's any kind of implication that what I'm doing here remotely is what he did during the Civil War of our country. But it is instructive to see how others responded, I think, in difficult times. I've often enjoyed doing that.
People often ask, why aren't you reading about what it is you're working on right now? And the truth is, you only get three pages a night before your eyelids close. I'd like to do them -- to transport me sometimes somewhere else within what I'm actually living at the time.
GRIFFIN: What is one thing that the American public doesn't know about General Petraeus?
PETRAEUS: Oh, gosh, I don't know. I mean, at this point I sometimes wonder. I don't know. Ask my wife.
GRIFFIN: What kind of music do you like? What kind of films do you watch?
PETRAEUS: Not much of any lately. Again, I love to take my wife out to dinner, frankly, which was such a treat after a year in Bosnia, four years in Iraq, and 300 days a year on the road at CentCom.
I guess, maybe I have a little bit more than a sense of humor than perhaps comes across at times in serious interviews. But --
GRIFFIN: You're also a student of history. Convince me that Afghanistan is not a quagmire.
PETRAEUS: Well I can't. I mean, all we can do is try to show that this is not one of those periods when Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. The fact is, that if you look at Afghanistan, actually I must confess, I am reading a book on Afghanistan right now, having finished the book on Grant.
GRIFFIN: Which one?
PETRAEUS: In fact, somebody find out what book was downloaded.
GRIFFIN: Do you read it on the Kindle?
PETRAEUS: I am, actually. Yes. Yes. We'll wait until this is --
GRIFFIN: Can we continue?
PETRAEUS: We can come back to that.
GRIFFIN: Yes, we can come back.
We just heard there was an attack on a girls' school here in Kabul. What do you know about that attack? Any information as to who's behind it? Is it symbolic to a type of attack that we're seeing more of? Is it going to get worse before the elections?
PETRAEUS: Well all I know at this point in time is that several dozen schoolgirls and some of their teachers were poisoned. Hard to say what the cause of that was. There's no question that the Taliban has done this to other girls' schools and also to some local police in various locations.
It's also correct to note the really egregious conduct of the Taliban that we have seen in recent months with the stoning to death of a couple in one case. And another case the flogging of a woman and her assassination. Not to mention as the UN has noted, the substantial increase of civilian casualties do to activities by the Taliban during a time, by the way, despite our increasing threefold the number of U.S. and forces on the ground.
Civilian casualties caused by ICEP (ph) forces and Afghan forces, by the way, have actually declined by nearly 30 percent.
GRIFFIN: What steps are being taken to avoid any sense that the upcoming elections are going to be fraught with fraud the way there were accusations in the last presidential elections?
PETRAEUS: There have been a number of steps taken. First of all, there's the Independent Electoral Commission has quite an impressive leader and also an impressive chief operations officer. So that team, we think, is certainly quite strong.
The measures taken already include special ballot printing techniques that make it more difficult to forge them or to carry out fraud with them. There's also been the very important, that was the U.N. said was the most important measure that could be taken, and that is the announcement 30 days in advance of the elections of all of the different polling sites so there's not shifting around at the last minute and new sites popping up or what have you, which then individuals can take advantage of and carry out fraudulent activity.
In fact, that did announce it 30 days prior to the elections, which was quite impressive. Beyond that, as you heard this morning, there's a rehearsal going on, for example, command and control. And there's a whole host of other activities. Will there be people who try to take advantage of? I would assume that would be the case. But I think that the -- relatively speaking -- that the measures that have been taken thus far, give us a degree of confidence that these elections will indeed be freer and fairer on a relative basis than have elections in the past.
GRIFFIN: Do you believe in reconciling with the Taliban and bringing them into the tent?
PETRAEUS: Well, let's talk first about reconciliation in general, and reintegration, as well.
There are two terms here in Afghanistan. The first is reintegration, which covers the turning the $10 a day Taliban, as they're called sometimes, local individuals almost chameleon like sometimes in their allegiances because that's how they stay alive over 30 years of war here in this country. And they certainly in many cases can be reconciled or reintegrated into society.
In fact we had two cases in the last two days alone where small groups of these kinds of individuals with a lower-level leader came in, laid down their weapons and in one case were given reintegration certificates by the governor of the province and so forth. So the prospect of that is very real.
I learned today, by the way, that the reintegration order that builds on the decree that President Karzai signed some weeks ago that actually gives the mechanics now (ph), that that was signed today and that should be published shortly that gives the guidance to the provincial governors and the peace counsel and others. And that's a positive step, as well.
PETRAEUS: Reconciliation is what takes place, of course, at higher levels. President Karzai has been very clear about the red lines for reconciliation, accept the constitution, lay down their weapons, cut their ties with al Qaeda and essentially become productive or at least participating members of society in that regard. And if those redlines are met, I don't see why you would not support reconciliation.
We sat down across the table in Iraq from individuals who had our blood on their hands. That's what was done in northern Ireland. It's what's done in just about any insurgency as you get to the end stages of it. So again, if there's a willingness of those at the high-levels to do that, and they do indeed agree to the safeguards, if you will, because again, there's a substantial proportion of the society here that has a very dim view of some of that and will want to be reassured and that is that 50 percent that is female, in particular.
They are, more than any element in society, concerned about what could happen if the Taliban ever regained control. They remember what life was like under the Taliban, when the girls' schools were all closed, very really regressive social policies to put it mildly were practiced, and so on.
So again, I think there have to be very clear safeguards. But if those are there then certainly you would want to reconcile and you really want to fracture the Taliban and the other elements that are out there, the Hague among them, by the way.
GRIFFIN: Is the U.S. currently negotiating with the Taliban?
PETRAEUS: This is a completely Afghan-led process. The U.S. is very much in the information loop and in a couple of cases has helped in a sense, but is not doing the negotiation. In some cases there has to be some safeguarding of movement or something like that, or at least assurances that we would not do something --
GRIFFIN: But you're facilitating? You could say that?
PETRAEUS: That might be a little bit of a stretch. But again, there's certainly full awareness of what's going on. There is support for, as it has been laid out. Actually in a couple of isolated cases there's been a degree of facilitation, if you will.
GRIFFIN: Do you think that an Islamic cultural center should be built two blocks away from Ground Zero?
PETRAEUS: I've got enough minefields out here with respect, without getting into domestic and minefields back in the United States.
GRIFFIN: But doesn't it affect your work out here, because obviously it can be a debate on either side of the issue could be used by the Taliban as propaganda out here. So it does affect your work?
PETRAEUS: I haven't seen it. I've seen articles that speculate that this is -- one literally said it's undermining Petraeus' this or that. I haven't seen it. In fact, no one here has mentioned it at all and I just came from a lengthy one on one conversation with President Karzai, so --
GRIFFIN: As you know, every so often there are articles and questions from Republicans about whether they could ever convince you to run on a Republican ticket.
Is there any politics in your future?
PETRAEUS: There is not. I've said no in every way I can possibly think of it and that's just not in the future.
GRIFFIN: Thank you.
PETRAEUS: It was great to have you back again.
GRIFFIN: Thank you so much.
GRIFFIN: Is there any music that you particularly like? Are you a classical music guy? Are you a pop, are you a Taylor Swift guy?
PETRAEUS: No, no. I'm an Enya guy. I don't know if Enya's still --
PETRAEUS: I haven't bought a CD in years.
GRIFFIN: Oh, that is hysterical.
PETRAEUS: I do like Celtic music. And Enya is among those and that kind of thing.
GRIFFIN: But do you listen to it out here?
PETRAEUS: No. I haven't listened to music since I've been out here.
PETRAEUS: I mean, over time maybe I'll get to that. I did in Iraq over time I sort of built up.
GRIFFIN: How did you feel seeing those, if we can call them, the last combat troops, leave Iraq?
PETRAEUS: I think everyone that watched that felt -- who was engaged in any period of the operations in Iraq, but particularly during the surge felt a slight degree of quiet pride.
But also it retains recognition that the final chapter hasn't been written, that there is considerable political wrangling that's going on right now that has to be resolved before Iraq can move forward further.
GRIFFIN: You're also dealing with -- I mean the comparisons to Iraq are obvious and logical given your former position there. Right now you're trying to attempt really something very similar to what you were trying to attempt in 2007 in Iraq, even though they are different terrains, different countries, different histories. But you're also dealing with a force that's on its fifth tour, as oppose to second tours.
Are you noticing a difference?
PETRAEUS: Interestingly the difference that I notice is that of experience. This is the most experienced Military that we have ever had in our history. The commission and non-commission officers, in particular, almost all, except for those who have just been promoted or perhaps commissioned. Virtually all of them have had at least one full year tour. Many have had two and quite a few have actually had three full year tours in combat prior to this deployment.
So the understanding of what it is that we're trying to do, the appreciation of the complexity of counterinsurgency operations with the nuances that one has to have, for which one has to have an appreciation and so forth, all of this is present in a way that, again, certainly wasn't the case in the first few years of our involvement here or in Iraq. And really, again, unprecedented for a Military. Vietnam was, I guess, a little bit longer than we've been here, although they're about close now depending on when you start and stop the clock.
It is often said that we refought Vietnam eight or nine different times because of one year tours in a drafty force. Certainly there were some commission officers and some non-commission officers who did more than one tour, but not that many. And command tours were only six months. They were accusations, if you will, of ticket punching. They were just rotating people through their professional development, rather than focusing on what it is we were trying to do and to accomplish our objectives and win the war.
It's a little but more nuance that to be sure. But the fact is, is that this is very, very different in that regard. So that would be the biggest difference. Is there is a strain on the forces as a result of this? Without question. And it does continue to accumulate. Again, certain individuals have borne quite a bit of that. There are certain commanders out there, certain senior non-commissioned officers, in particular, who are again on their third or fourth full year tours. Obviously that takes a toll.
But what I see are commanders who have an unparalleled understanding of what we're trying to do and really an extraordinary depth of experience, as well as now knowledge.
GRIFFIN: OK. Thank you.