President Obama insisted today that “we will not miss a beat because of the change in command in the Afghan theater,” since the new commander, General David Petraeus, helped formulate the strategy and knows many of the key players on the ground.
“General Petraeus understands that strategy because he helped shape it,” the president said, “and my expectation is that he will be outstanding in implementing it.”
The president made his remarks in the East Room of the White House where he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took a few questions from reporters after a joint meeting.
Mr. Obama repeated what he said Wednesday, when announcing his decision to fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the move represented a change in personnel and not policy. “When we engaged in an extensive review last year, General Petraeus was part of a group” that included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other members of his national security team, “that discussed extensively what our various options were in Afghanistan” and formed a new policy.
The president said the July 2011 deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal of US troops remained, but it would not result in “suddenly there would be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. We didn't say we'd be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. We said that we'd begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility.”
The president praised Petraeus, whose 2007 strategy for the surge in Iraq then-Senator Obama did not support, a surge that both Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen later credited with creating the situation allowing the withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq this summer.
“Not only does he have extraordinary experience in Iraq, not only did he help write the manual for dealing with insurgencies, but he also is intimately familiar with the players,” the president said. “He knows President Karzai. He knows the other personnel who are already on the ground. So our team is going to be moving forward in sync.”
Mr. Obama also seemed to put his team on notice to not disparage one another publicly, as had McChrystal and his team. “I am going to be insisting on a unity of purpose on the part of all branches of the U.S. government that reflects the enormous sacrifices that are being made by the young men and women who are there,” he said. “I am confident that we've got a team in place that can execute. And — now, I'm paying very close attention to make sure that they execute. And I will be insisting on extraordinary performance moving forward.”