David Petraeus, the top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, bid a historic farewell to his Afghanistan assignment on Monday as he handed over the charge of the international coalition to his successor and prepared to head back home where yet another challenging job as the chief of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) awaits him. The outgoing General was awarded the Ghazi Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan Medal by President Karzai on Monday in a ceremony that belied the past tensions in relations between the President and the General and the coalition forces that he commanded. He has been succeeded by Gen. John Allen who officially assumed the command of the 47-nation international coalition on Monday.
Gen. David Petraeus, in his capacity as the top commander in Afghanistan, oversaw a period of a war against the Taliban and other militant groups that coincided with the Obama Administration's "surge" strategy whereby an additional 30,000 troops were poured into Afghanistan in a bid to turn the tide of the war. In the beginning, the hopes were high that Gen. Petraeus and his "Petraeus Doctrine" in counterinsurgency can replicate the kind of successful "surge" strategy that he managed in Iraq and that was largely credited with calming down the Iraqi insurgency.
David Petraeus has been one of the main figures in American military who revolutionized the forces' thinking on counterinsurgency, its modalities, premises and assumptions in the post Cold War era. The import of the "Petraeus Doctrine" into Afghanistan by the General, however, did not produce the kind of success that he and a broad array of military strategists in Washington hoped could be accomplished with regards to the Taliban. Gen. Petraeus largely failed in bringing a major turnaround in the war in Afghanistan in the manner he did thousands of kilometers away in the Arab land.
In the end, if he was not successful in that, he was successful in organizing a massive campaign of shock and awe against the leadership hierarchy of Taliban which saw countless commanders whether high-ranking or mid-level eliminated by specialized teams of Afghan and American Special Forces. This campaign, along with major military drives into Taliban's strongholds in the South – Kandahar and Helmand – largely contributed to the breakdown in the Taliban and other militant groups' command and control structures on the battlefields of the South and parts of the East. As a result and as rightly claimed by the international forces, Taliban's momentum has been curtailed to a significant extent on the battlefields of the South and parts of the East. The East, however, remains an untamed horse proving extraordinarily difficult for the sparse American and Afghan security forces to engage the Taliban and their allies in those mountainous and rough-terrain areas.
Gen. Petraeus' intense personal involvement with the Afghanistan war, however, seems to be far from over. As he takes off the military uniform after 37 years of service in the military, he immediately dons the robe of the spy master serving this time in the CIA; an assignment that he knows will be as challengingas his Afghan mission. Certainly, Afghanistan is going to remain on the General's list even as the chief of the spy organization.
This is so since David Petraeus leaves Afghanistan as an unfulfilled General who sees his failure to finish off the Taliban here as a burden on his legacy and on his personal pride as a General. As Washington Post reported, in a videoconference from Washington with his staff in Kabul, he encouraged them to stay the course in Afghanistan telling them the job of defeating the Taliban was still "doable" even after significant numbers of troops will be withdrawn by 2014. This speaks of the kind of optimism and determination that he has instilled in him as a military General in uniform.
Taking the war against Taliban to Eastern Afghanistan
David Petraeus will certainly remain engaged with the war in Afghanistan even as the chief of the CIA. He outlined the future American strategy in the war in Afghanistan as being increasingly focused on the volatile areas of the Eastern Afghanistan. In his words, the focus of the war against the Taliban and the resourceful and dreaded Haqqani group will shift to the East from the South in parallel with the broader U.S. counterterrorism strategy of greater use of sophisticated military technologies such as pilotless drones against insurgent groups. In the upcoming U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan war and as described by Gen. Petraeus himself, more forces and air power will be deployed to the East in areas close to Pakistani border where the porous frontier has allowed cross-border movement of insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda fighters.
Therefore, in the coming months and particularly after the start of the next fighting season when the winter ends, more Afghan and American military forces will be moved to the Eastern regions. The increasing reliance on high-tech weapons is at the center of the new American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. David Petraeus, as the new director of CIA, is set to drastically increase the spy agency's drone wars and high-tech tactics in Eastern Afghanistan as it is already being done in the Pakistani tribal areas. He will no doubt try to favorably shape up his Afghanistan legacy, having the levers of CIA in hand, by bringing a turnaround in the war in the Eastern regions as he did in Kandahar and Helmand in the South.
David Petraeus' strategy of shifting the focus of the war to the East has been long overdue. This is on account of the free rein that Taliban, Haqqani group and other militant groups have enjoyed in the eastern regions where the presence of Afghan and coalition forces has been sparse and short of needed strength.There has been a pressing need to counter the widespread presence of militant groups in these regions from where they have mounted attacks on Kabul, Jalalabad and other important cities and towns. Almost all the attacks on Kabul such as the one on Intercontinental Hotel have been perpetrated by militant groups who have significant presence in the Eastern provinces.
Countering and suppressing the growing influence and power of militants in the East is an extremely important objective to be achieved in the run-up to the deadline of 2014 when the majority of foreign forces will leave the country. David Petraeus' successor, John Allen, will take the strategy outlined by Petraeus to the next level by taking the war to the militants' strongholds in the Eastern belt along the Pakistani border. Be warned; as the war will intensify along the border with Pakistan in the coming months, so might clashes and skirmishes with our neighbor Pakistan.