Counterinsurgency is a complex strategy based on the main idea that the war cannot be won by military power alone, and that winning the hearts and minds of the local population is the key factor to success. Part of this includes securing the local Afghan population, while bolstering central and local governments to provide basic services to citizens and eventually gain their trust and allegiance against the Taliban. It is an evolving strategy, one that was shaped heavily by events as recent as the second Iraq War. In fact, Petraeus described counterinsurgency in Afghanistan as a "graduate level of warfare."
Dubbed the "Professor of War" by Vanity Fair in May 2010 for "leading a cultural and doctrinal revolution inside one of the most hidebound institutions in the world, the United States Army," Petraeus said he seeks opportunities to foster intellectual discourse about the war strategy, and that he welcomed "intellectual friction."
"We bring in outsiders. We have red teamers. We have the directed telescopes. We have all these different elements. And I've got to work occasionally to make sure that my commanders are still clear on what it is as we're banging around ideas."
Meanwhile, the Washington clock is ticking on whether Gen. Petraeus will have enough time to turn the war around. But Petraeus said he and policymakers were "intent on carrying out the policy that the President announced about July 2011."
In the interview, Petraeus also clarified the type of U.S. troops drawdown.
"July 2011 is the date when a process begins, the pace of which is determined by conditions on the ground. And that process consists of two elements. One is transition of tasks to Afghan forces and elements of institutions because [of] its functions, not just geographic areas. And the other is the beginning of a responsible drawdown of our surge forces," he said.
Petraeus also said it would consist of a "thinning out" of forces, rather than a "hand off" of areas.
"You do a little bit less and the Afghans do a little bit more instead of saying, 'Tag, you're it. You take the ball and run with it. We're out of here.' And we think that's the logical approach to this," he said.
Petraeus said Kabul would see a thinning out of U.S. troops.
"That's an area in which we'll do some transition of our forces, some thinning out, and then moving into other areas," he said. "The thinning out enables some forces to go home. It enables some others to be used in contiguous areas where there's more work still to be done."
As he has often said, things will get worse before they get better. This summer marked the deadliest few months for U.S. troops since the war has begun. A record high of 66 deaths occurred in June, 60 in July, and 56 in August - of the 56 in August, 23 fatalities occurred between Aug. 27 through Aug. 31 alone.