WASHINGTON (April 1, 2009) – Although the U.S. government recognizes the differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan, it makes sense from a strategy standpoint to consider the two countries as one theater, the commander of U.S. Central Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus praised the comprehensive strategy during his testimony before the panel.
“Although the additional resources will be applied in different ways on either side of [their mutual border], Afghanistan and Pakistan comprise a single theater that requires comprehensive ‘whole-of governments’ approaches that are closely coordinated,” Petraeus said.
More U.S. forces are deploying to Afghanistan, and the basis of the counterinsurgency plan is to protect the population from al-Qaida and the Taliban, Petraeus said. NATO also is sending in more forces to help with security as elections approach.
“The additional [U.S.] forces will provide an increased capability to secure and serve the people, to pursue the extremists, to support the development of host nation security forces, to reduce the illegal narcotics industry, and to help develop the Afghan capabilities needed to increase the legitimacy of national and local Afghan governance,” Petraeus said.
“These forces will also, together with the additional NATO elements committed to the election security force, work with Afghan elements to help secure the national elections in late August and to help ensure that those elections are seen as free, fair and legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people,” he said.
The added troops will increase the footprint of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and they must behave in such a way as to limit the impact of that footprint, the general said.
“It is vital that they be seen as good guests and partners, not as would-be conquerors or superiors, as formidable warriors who also do all possible to avoid civilian casualties in the course of combat operations,” Petraeus said. “As additional elements deploy, it will also be essential that our commanders and elements strive for unity of effort at all levels and integrate our security efforts into the broader plans to promote Afghan political and economic development.”
But while more military forces are needed in Afghanistan, Petraeus said, they will not by themselves be sufficient. “It is important that the civilian requirements for Afghanistan and Pakistan be fully met as well,” he said.
Petraeus asked the senators to approve funding for the State Department and the Agency for International Development so those agencies can provide the personnel and resources needed in the countries.
Pakistan requires different handling, the general said. People must remember that Pakistan’s democratic institutions are fragile, he told the senators, and the country has taken many casualties in its operations against extremists.
Still, he said, al-Qaida and the Taliban have established sanctuaries in the rugged border area that “not only contribute to the deterioration of security in eastern and southern Afghanistan, they also pose an ever more serious threat to Pakistan’s very existence.”
The extremists have sustained losses, Petraeus noted, and the Pakistani military has stepped up operations against militants in parts of the tribal areas. “However, considerable further work is required,” he added. “It is in Pakistan that al-Qaida senior leadership and other transnational extremist elements are located. Thus, operations there are imperative, and we need to provide the support and assistance to the Pakistani military that can enable them to confront the extremists who pose a truly existential threat to their country.”
The U.S. military will focus on expanding its partnership with the Pakistani military, and helping it build counterinsurgency capabilities, the general said.
The military also will help to promote closer cooperation along the Afghan-Pakistan border. American servicemembers will train with Afghan and Pakistani soldiers and provide the equipment and intelligence capabilities the two nations need to confront the extremists, Petraeus said.