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News | March 30, 2009

CENTCOM commander, ambassador discuss new strategy in Afghanistan, Pakistan

WASHINGTON (March 30, 2009) – The new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will include unprecedented integration of military and civilian activities, two key leaders in the effort said Sunday.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke with host John King on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Holbrooke said that in the wake of a full review of Afghanistan policy ordered by President Barack Obama, he and Petraeus plan to meet soon to work on details for the way forward.

“Dave Petraeus and I are now going to sit down and plot the most serious integration of civilian and military activities … we have had in our time,” he said. “We’re going to integrate the policy like it’s never been done before.”

On the civilian side of the equation, Holbrooke said, deliberations during the review focused on Afghanistan’s agricultural sector and creating jobs.

Militarily, about 30,000 more U.S. forces will deploy to Afghanistan, doubling the number of Americans on the ground in the country, Petraeus said. “They’ll all be on the ground by the end of the summer and the early fall,” he said.

Holbrooke noted that the enemy in Afghanistan and contemporaries operating from the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan present a danger to America.

“The people we are fighting in Afghanistan and the people they are sheltering in western Pakistan pose a direct threat [to the United States],” Holbrooke said. “Those are the men of 9/11, the people who killed [former Pakistani Prime Minister] Benazir Bhutto. And you can be sure that as we sit here today, they are planning further attacks on the United States and our allies.”

The effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan is comprehensive, Petraeus said, employing all elements of government to deal with the Afghans and Pakistanis. Much of this is building trust and cooperation between the two nations, he said.

Asked by King whether sending more troops into Afghanistan is like sending the fire department there while the fires are in Pakistan, Petraeus said the troops are needed in Afghanistan, and that Pakistani officials are working on matters on their side of the border.

“Let me just say that it’s very important that the fire department address the fires that have sprung up in the eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan without question,” the general said. “And then it’s critically important that the fire department, if you will, in Pakistan, do the same thing in the federally administered tribal areas.”

The Pakistanis have been working on their side of the border to eliminate the safe havens – most notably with offensives in Bajour and Mohmand. But they have to control all areas and establish government control throughout the country, Petraeus added.

“We’ve had ups and downs between our countries over the years,” he acknowledged. “We’ve now got to get on an up and stay on an up with them.”

In his March 27 speech announcing the plan, Obama said Pakistan must demonstrate “its commitment to rooting out al-Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken, one way or another, when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”

Petraeus said that doesn’t mean U.S. ground forces would operate in Pakistan.

“There is no intention for us to be conducting operations in there, certainly on the ground, and there is every intention by the Pakistani military and their other forces to conduct those operations,” he said. “[Pakistan] is a very proud country. It has existing institutions. Our job is to enable those institutions, to help them develop the kinds of counterinsurgency capabilities that are needed and to help their entire government at large to conduct the kind of comprehensive effort that is necessary well beyond just the military effort, but one that then looks after displaced citizens, that tries to foster local economic development, and there was some of that in the president’s speech as well.”