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Gen. Petraeus Exclusive Interview: Progress in Afghanistan Like Watching 'Paint Dry'

Exclusive: Petraeus concedes War in Afghanistan could take another 10 years.

ByABC News
September 14, 2010, 11:03 AM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2010— -- Upon the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, ABC News' Martha Raddatz interviewed four-star Gen. David Petraeus, who was appointed to replace former Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan in June.

In an exclusive interview, Petraeus explained his decision to speak out against a Florida preacher's plan to burn Korans, and conceded that a successful counterinsurgency campaign could take up to 10 more years, but said he intended to stick to the 2011 drawdown date.

Petraeus, who was appointed commander of the Multi-National Force--Iraq in 2006, is seen as the one who turned the tide of violence in Iraq and who can do the same in Afghanistan.

Respected by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, his public stance that Koran-burning could incite anti-American violence against U.S. troops in Afghanistan was quickly echoed by the president and Sen. John McCain, and may have contributed to Pastor Terry Jones' decision to cancel "Burn a Koran Day."

Petraeus said although some damage was already done, the fact that Jones was stopped from hosting the event has helped repair America's image.

"When you saw the outpouring of emotion, of rejection of such an action by so many Americans -- from all areas, all walks of life, all segments of our population, I think that sent a very powerful message to those of the Islamic faith around the world," he said.

The concern over messaging shows the complexity of the fight in Afghanistan, and the importance of winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans in the strategy largely authored and being implemented now by Petraeus.

Taking Control in Afghanistan

Petraeus is just now taking command of the Afghanistan War, but after almost nine years of the war, the American public appears to be getting war weary. However, he conceded, it could take just as long to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

When asked where Afghanistan was in terms of the "COIN clock", and if success could take nine to 10 more years, Petraeus replied, "Yeah, again, in some respects, I'd say obviously what took place up until this point has been of enormous importance. The sacrifices made have been -- very -- very important to this overall effort.

Read a transcript of the interview HERE.

"But it is just at this point that we feel that we do have the organizations that we learned in Iraq and from history are necessary for the conduct of this kind of campaign. We got the leaders in place, the big ideas and so forth with our Afghan partners. And now very much the resources. Although still growing even there, in terms of the required number of Afghan national security forces," he told ABC News.

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."