Offering an upbeat assessment of the war in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus today said progress -- some of it substantial -- has been made over the last 18 months.
Speaking at London's Royal United Services Institute, General Petraeus painted a picture of Afghanistan in which the Taliban's ability to mount attacks is being reduced, where Afghan led security and governance is growing and where civil society is beginning to take root.
NATO Ambassador Mark Sedwill, Petraeus' diplomatic counterpart, emphasized the need for coalition nations to get on the same page regarding the timeline in Afghanistan. Sedwill said the process of transitioning from International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops to Afghan security will begin in 2011, with the goal of completing that transition by the end of 2014. Both men indicated the time is right to begin that transition.
Citing success with counterterrorism operations, Petraeus said 300 Taliban leaders had been captured or killed in the last 90 days, including the third highest ranking Al Qaeda operative in Afghanistan, who was killed in a "rough and rugged" area in the eastern part of the country. He described the Taliban leaders as "jackpot" type captures or kills, not low-level functionaries.
Petraeus said the number of counterterrorism, or precision special forces-type raids in Afghanistan, is three to four times as many as were conducted at the height of the surge in Iraq, because the US military has greatly increased the number of "enablers" used to plan for such missions. Likewise, the number of drones, analysts and the technological infrastructure necessary to pinpoint targets and conduct raids has never been greater.
Petraeus acknowledged that not every raid is successful. In an extraordinary moment, the general revealed that this morning, he contacted the father of Linda Norgrove, the British aid worker killed during a botched U.S. special forces raid meant to free her. In a sign of how sensitive the issue is for the coalition, Petraeus said he offered his condolences to John Norgrove and brought him up to date on the investigation.
He called it disturbing not to have the correct facts on the morning after the operation. He said it was only after investigators were reviewing video recorded from six camera feeds of the rescue operation, that investigators noticed one of the special operations personnel make a "throwing motion," which was followed by an explosion consistent with a grenade.
Generally, today's discussion appeared to be part progress report, part warm up for the Afghanistan conference scheduled for late November in Lisbon, and part dry run of the assessment Petraeus must deliver to Washington in early December.
He said over the last 18 months he and his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, have tried to get the "inputs" right for Afghanistan. Petraeus asserted he believes they finally have the right recipe for getting the results they want on everything from targeting insurgents, to building the Afghan security forces, to reintegration of some of the Taliban and building capacity for Afghan governance.