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Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. central command
Landon Lecture
Tuesday, April 27, 2009


I do hope to provide a few I insights this afternoon on some of the operations we're overseeing at Central Command. I'm very aware that the Landon Lecture is a platform typically reserved for U.S. and foreign leaders and diplomats, so I feel very honored to have the opportunity to speak here this afternoon.

Before I begin though I have to note that seeing so many young leaders in uniform in the audience takes me back to my own days, early days, in the Army right after finishing my own undergraduate experience at West Point. I was a brand new lieutenant out at my first field exercise with my platoon. We'd had a long day, and we didn't crawl into our sleeping bags until shortly before midnight. I'd only been asleep for an hour or so when my platoon sergeant, a wise old airborne veteran, elbowed me and woke me up. "Sir," he said, "look up and tell me what you see." So I looked up at a beautiful night sky and replied, "I see a million stars platoon sergeant." "And what does that tell you sir," my wise old platoon sergeant asked. Well, not exactly sure what he was getting at I thought for a few moments and wanting to impress him I gave an answer that I thought he would conclude to be truly profound and indicative of a keen intellect. "Well platoon sergeant," I said, "astronomically it tells me that here are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically it tells me that God is great and that we are but small and insignificant. Meteorologically it tells me that we're going to enjoy a beautiful day for training tomorrow." There was a long pause as my platoon sergeant considered this weighty answer. Thinking that he might be speechless after such an impressive response I waited a moment and finally asked him, "well what does it tell you platoon sergeant?" "Well sir," he replied, "it tells me that somebody stole our tent."

Well that was a few years ago and thankfully I've had a little seasoning since then so please rest assured I won't try to be profound today. What I will do is discuss two of the biggest challenges in the Central Command area of responsibility, Iraq and Afghanistan. After first providing a brief update on the situation in Iraq I'd like to discuss the so-called surge and the accompanying concepts that help create such significant progress there. Operations in which many in this audience performed so magnificently and it is very good to see individuals like Col. Rick Gibbs, Col. Pat Franks, Sgt. Maj. Jim Champagne, Sgt Issac Hayman of the great Black Lions of the 1st of the 28th, are they here by any chance? Hoo-ah, see that by golly, and they were magnificent. And we'll see you after this Sergeant. You're here right? Yes sir. See that, okay, stand up. Where is Sgt Hayman? For any of your sports teams by the way Mr. President, if they ever want to get a truly great workout, go do PT with the Black Lions. I'm not joking. I've done it and it was great and memorable. But it is wonderful again to have such individuals in the audience today and to be able to think back on what they accomplished.

After that I'm going to give an update on the situation in Afghanistan, highlighting the ways we're seeking to apply lessons learned in Iraq to the effort there and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

First, as I said, the situation in Iraq. Quite simply it has improved substantially, though as we see periodically and as we saw last week, significant challenges do remain. Nonetheless, levels of violence have been reduced very significantly to those not seen since mid-2003 before the insurgent and militia problems grew to produce the horrific sectarian violence of 2006 and the first half of 2007. Some in the audience will remember in fact June 2007 when there was an average of 160 attacks in Iraq per day. By contrast, in the past four to five months the average has been between 10 and 15 attacks per day and that is again, in no small measure due to the efforts of some of those in this audience, those they represent throughout our military and their Iraqi partners.

Beyond the improvements in the security situation, the Iraqis in January conducted provincial elections, which were certified by the UN to have been free and fair, which resulted in more representative councils than was previously the case in which generally reflected a rejection of the political parties most under the influence of Iran. More recently the council of representatives elected a new speaker and provincial councils have been seated. And although Al-Qaeda in Iraq does remain a force capable of periodic sensational attacks, Iraqi and coalition forces have dealt it significant blows in the course of the past two years, reducing its capabilities considerably. Moreover, increasingly capable and trusted Iraqi security forces have taken on an expanded role allowing all this progress to occur even as we have withdrawn all of the U.S. surge brigades and additional U.S. brigade combat team and thousands of non-U.S. coalition personnel with further reductions ongoing.

I'd like to explore for a few minutes what led to such progress. The popular understanding is that it was the surge commonly seen as the U.S. sending 30,000 or so more combat troops into Iraq. In truth the surge was much more than that and should be understood more broadly as not just the commitment of more troops but as the accompanying surge and employment of counter insurgency principles as well. This is not to discount the importance of sending additional troopers, especially such magnificent ones as we have here in this auditorium with us today. At the low point of the security situation in Iraq, we are seeing more than 50 dead bodies a night turn up on the streets of Baghdad alone so there was no doubt that more troopers were needed to help quell the horrific violence. Just as importantly though the commitment of additional forces signaled to the Iraqi people the United States' commitment to see Iraq through the crisis in many cases giving Iraqis the confidence to eventually stand up to the extremists themselves. This signaled commitment and the resulting confidence our forces generated were key ingredients in producing the "awakening movements" that so benefited the security situation in Iraq in 2007.

Another key ingredient of the surge was the accompanying Iraqi surge. Well over 100,000 additional soldiers and police were added to the ranks of the Iraqi security forces in 2007, ranks that now number over 600,000 in total. Additionally over 100,000 local citizens joined the Sons of Iraq program, which employed local Iraqis to help keep their community secure until Iraqi army and police elements were available to maintain security in the area. Together these efforts provided the strength in numbers necessary to confront the elements that stoke the violence and brought Baghdad to its knees.

Perhaps the most important element of the surge, though, was the focus on ensuring our soldiers were employed in line with key counter-insurgency concepts. For example, as the surge commenced coalition and Iraqi forces began to focus first and foremost on securing and serving the population. We deployed our troopers together with Iraqi security force personnel to joint security stations and patrol bases located in the Iraqi neighborhoods where they lived among, protected, and served the locals whose trust they sought to earn and did earn over time. The hard won trust that results from living with the people proved critical in I improving security as local citizens reassured that security forces were in their neighborhoods to stay, increasingly alerted troopers to malign activity and led them to weapons caches and enemy safe houses. As coalition and Iraqi forces began to provide breathing space from the violence, emboldened Iraqis increasingly began to reject violence and those who employed it.

This led to and reinforced the implementation of another counter-insurgency concept, the fostering of reconciliation. Efforts on the reconciliation front were many and varied. Coalition and Iraqi commanders, for example, facilitated local meetings to bring together rival leaders newly willing to work in partnership for their communities. And by the way, few did it better or as well as the great Col. Rick Gibbs and his brigade in southern Baghdad.

Also, U.S. and Iraqi elements worked together to reach out to individuals from insurgents to satirists who would oppose the Iraqi government, encouraging them to participate in the political process, offering amnesty programs and providing skills training to disenfranchised military age males.

We also implemented counterinsurgency concepts inside the wire at our detention facilities, identifying the irreconcilable hard core detainees and separating them from the rest of the detainee population and providing job training, civic education, and basic skills training to the rest. All of these initiatives, proved important to efforts to knit Iraqi communities back together and to build support for the Iraqi government.

Another counter-insurgency concept on which we focused was the need for our operations to be comprehensive. The struggle in Iraq, and indeed in any counter-insurgency campaign, is ultimately about the legitimacy of the government. The Iraqi people at the end of the day were the decisive terrain and their support for their government was essential. Thus, the increased security enabled by the surge and the concepts we implemented had to lead to the governance and economic improvements that made the Iraqi government legitimate in the eyes of its people. We thus partnered with Iraqi officials to help make this the case. Electricity generation, oil production, and commercial development investment were all increased significantly and further job training, micro loan programs, and job creation initiatives are underway even as the bulk of those tasks are transitioned to Iraqi institutions. And over time in fact, the Iraqi government has even enacted major legislation on contentious issues, increased its managerial capacity and budget execution, and conducted important elections.

By pairing additional U.S. and Iraqi forces with the employment of counter-insurgency principles, secure and serve the population, foster reconciliation, employ a comprehensive approach, we helped to achieve important progress in Iraq. And as President Obama recently announced this progress will enable us to carry out the tasks agreed to in the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement. As he also noted, however, we will have to keep our eye on several looming challenges. These include upcoming national elections at the end of I the year, resilient sunni and shia extremists, malign external influences, lingering ethno-sectarian mistrust, increasing budget pressures, still inadequate levels of basic services, the release of over 10,000 Iraqi detainees, the anticipated return of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced by the sectarian violence, and unresolved internal boundary disputes. As President Obama stated and I quote, "there is renewed cause for hope in Iraq but that hope rests upon an emerging foundation." We are, of course, helping Iraq strengthen that foundation. Again, Iraq is in a much better state than it was in early 2007 and a number of those in this audience should be rightly proud of the roles they played in tough situations there to achieve the progress that we now see.

Turning to Afghanistan, we see a situation in marked contrast to that in Iraq. The trend has frankly been a downward spiral in many areas of the country. The insurgency in Afghanistan has expanded its strength and influence and levels of violence and some areas in 2008 were double those in 2007. The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and associated syndicate of extremists have demonstrated considerable resilience due in part to the presence of safe havens just across the Afghan border with Pakistan and in part to the steady flow of revenues from illegal narcotics trafficking and donations from outside Afghanistan. The resurgence of these groups has also resulted to varying degrees throughout the country from frustration with the slow development of Afghanistan's fledgling government whose legitimacy has suffered due to the security situation and inability to provide adequate essential services for the people and corruption.

Our fundamental objective in Afghanistan remains as the President recently explained, to ensure that transnational terrorists are not able to establish the sanctuaries they enjoyed there prior to 9-11. Accomplishing this aim though requires not just killing or capturing terrorists but also developing Afghan security forces, reducing the drug trade that finances the insurgency, fostering the growth of Afghan government so that it can achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the people, creating basic economic opportunity for Afghan citizens and so forth. Essentially our objectives in Afghanistan requires a robust sustained and comprehensive counter insurgency campaign which is of course what President Obama described last month when he laid out the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given the situation we have an opportunity to apply the lessons we've learned, conducting a complex counter insurgency campaign in Iraq, to our efforts in Afghanistan while noting that lessons learned in one operation have to be applied with great care in another. In fact if there is any overriding principal of counter insurgency it is that context matters. What worked in one community in Iraq in fact may not have worked in the neighboring community or even one month later in the same location. And so we certainly cannot perform a wholesale transplant of successful practices from Iraq and expect them to work in Afghanistan.

Indeed the challenges in Afghanistan are in some ways more daunting than those in Iraq. Afghanistan is after all larger and more rural than Iraq and has much more rugged terrain and a harsher climate. Afghanistan has considerably less human capitol and far lower literacy rates than Iraq, and it has less natural resources as well. By comparison total revenue generation in Afghanistan last year was under $1 billion compared to the nearly $60 billion in oil revenue alone generated in Iraq. And Afghanistan has very little infrastructure by which the government can deliver basic essential services. In Afghanistan we are building, not rebuilding. Therefore while the principles of counter insurgency remain valid these principles nevertheless have to be adapted to the unique cultural, political, geographic and human terrain of Afghanistan.

So this is the point in such a presentation at which the speaker should look around and check to see if the audience is still focused, shall we say? And the best way to ensure focus sometimes is to tell another quick story and this one is especially pertinent as it relates to a recently declassified operation conducted as part of the struggle against extremism. A struggle in which, of course, Centcom has obviously been very involved but this operation was conducted on an unnamed island in the Pacific Ocean. As the story goes an infantry battalion was deployed to the desert island to conduct several missions, and they found they had to hire some local inhabitants as scouts and translators. It turned out, however, that the locals were cannibals. So the commander who had completed all of his pre-deployment language and cultural awareness training, now part of preparation for a deployment at the Command and General Staff College, made a point of speaking to the cannibals before the contract was finalized, in their language in fact. "You're part of our team now," he told the cannibals, "one team one fit fight, make way together, team of teams," all that good stuff. "We'll pay you well for your services and we'll allow you to eat any of our rations but please," he said "please, don't eat any of our soldiers." Well the cannibals responded in a very reassuring manner, promising not to eat any of the troopers on the islands, and they shook hands with the commander and went to work. Everything was going smoothly until about four weeks later when the commander called the cannibals together for a meeting once again. "You're all working very hard, and I'm very satisfied with your performance," he said, "however, one of our sergeants has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to him?" The cannibals all shook their heads no and professed to have no idea of the missing sergeant's whereabouts. After the commander left, however, the leader of the cannibals turned to the others and asked sternly, "which one of you idiots ate the sergeant?" Well the cannibals all hung their heads and looked down and finally one of them meekly put his hand in the air and said, "I did." "You fool," the head cannibal shouted, "for four weeks we've been eating lieutenants, captains, and even majors and no one noticed anything -- and then you had to go and eat a sergeant." Now you notice. I didn't say anything about generals because I'm sure their absence would have been noticed immediately -- probably only by their aides but that's beside the point. Well now that I hope we've got everyone refocused I'll move back to the serious stuff and serious it is indeed, counter insurgency principles for Afghanistan.

As was the case in Iraq, additional forces are needed in Afghanistan. More are on the way in this regard as President Obama recently announced plans to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan and some NATO coalition nations have pledged more trainers and forces as well. Having more forces on the ground will enable our troopers and those of our Afghan partners to hold more effectively areas that have been cleared in order to facilitate follow-on economic and governing some improvements. And having more trainers on the ground will accelerate the continued development of Afghan national security forces. Sustained substantial commitment from the U.S. and the international community will be necessary to forge progress in Afghanistan and these additional commitments are important steps forward.

As in Iraq the resource requirement in Afghanistan is not just for additional coalition military forces but also for more and improved Afghan security forces. Indeed this is an important part of the new strategy announced last month, which calls for a focus on expanding and professionalizing the Afghan security forces. Efforts are also underway to involve local citizens in the security of their communities through the Afghan public protection program. Together this will all help to provide the strength in numbers necessary to halt the downward spiral of violence in Afghanistan.

Just more forces will not be enough, however, because again as in Iraq it is how forces are employed that matters as much, if not more, than the fact that there are additional forces. Operating in a country known as the graveyard of empires our forces must partner with their Iraqi counterparts to show the Afghan people that they are not would-be conquerors but are instead there to secure and serve Afghan communities. Doing so will require being good neighbors and while it may be less culturally acceptable to live among the people in certain parts of Afghanistan than it was in Iraq it is nonetheless necessary to locate Afghan and ISAP forces where they can establish a persistent security presence and can come to know the dynamics and intricacies of local governmental, religious, and tribal structures.

Fostering reconciliation will be another important counterinsurgency principle employed in Afghanistan. There has been some debate surrounding this issue as many Afghan and U.S. leaders believe that a high level reconciliation effort would require Taliban leaders to agree to preconditions that they would never be willing to consider. This may well be the case but it does not prevent reconciliation from taking place at the local level where local commanders and leaders sufficiently familiar with local dynamics can identify reconcilable elements of the insurgency and provide social and economic alternatives to them in order to win them over to the new Afghanistan.

Finally the insurgency and security situation in Afghanistan requires a truly comprehensive approach, one that addresses the root causes and underlying factors that make certain areas fertile fields for the insurgency. An important element of a comprehensive approach is civilian capacity given that the greatest long term challenge in Afghanistan is the need for economic and governance development we need to augment the civilian expertise in Afghanistan as well. And this also is part of the new strategy President Obama announced last month, which calls for more fully resourcing the civilian aspects of our mission and significantly increasing the development mission. As always, military action is necessary but not sufficient. Additional civilian resources will be essential to building on the progress that our troopers and their Afghan partners can achieve on the ground.

Another important element of our comprehensive approach in Afghanistan is understanding and approaching Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single problem set, as a single theater with different rules of engagement on either side of the Afghan-Pakistan border. This too is an approach endorsed in the new strategy. The militants and extremists operating out of Pakistan's tribal areas pose a threat to Afghanistan as well as a serious regional and even global threat, thus even as we actively pursue militants and seek economic and governance improvements in Afghanistan, we also have to encourage the Pakistani government to recognize that these militants are the most significant threat to their country's very existence. Indeed, in support of our Pakistani counterparts, we are also working to help them increase the capability and capacity of Pakistani forces to conduct counter-insurgency operations providing training and equipment that can help enable the cultural shift and institutional change required to produce a force capable of addressing the extremist elements in the federal administered tribal areas, northwest frontier province, and other areas of Pakistan under threat.

Returning to Afghanistan, an important focus as we pursue a comprehensive approach in that country is achieving greater unity of effort between the various elements of our operations. In view of that imperative we are working hard to ensure that civil and military efforts are synchronized and complementary. This Saturday, in fact, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and I will host an all-day off-site with U.S. civil and military leaders engaged in operations in Afghanistan to address issues in which additional civil and military coordination is necessary. Moreover, work is ongoing in Kabul and in Islamabad on development of joint civil-military campaign plans similar to the one that Ambassador Crocker and I developed in Baghdad.

By increasing our civilian and military footprints in Afghanistan, focusing our troopers on security and serving the population, fostering reconciliation, pursuing a comprehensive approach, and working toward greater unity of effort we can help Afghan forces and leaders achieve the security, economic, and governance improvements that are so necessary in their country.

The increase in forces and focus on securing the people are needed to help create the breathing space that will allow Afghans to stand up for themselves and that will also allow the government to begin working for its people in providing essential services instead of simply struggling to survive. With improved essential services and better overall performance the Afghan government will gain legitimacy. As this takes place, opportunity for reconciliation will become possible. As that takes place intelligence inevitably will be improved. As intelligence improves security, operations become more precise and effective and because of all that security improves further. Each factor reinforces the other and over time and with sustained commitment, progress in each can reverse the current trend in certain areas of Afghanistan and produce an upward spiral rather than the current downward one.

By having described the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way forward in each, let me conclude by noting what a tremendous job our men and women in uniform are doing in implementing America's policies in these two countries and throughout the Central Command region, where more than 215,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen are hard at work. We've asked a great deal of those in uniform in recent years. Our troopers have selflessly performed complex missions under tough conditions in very challenging situations. And many of our military families have endured lengthy separations during repeated tours in combat. Through it all our men and women in uniform and their families have been truly magnificent.

Last July 4th, I had the honor of raising my right hand in Baghdad with 1,215 of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines as they reenlisted in a combat zone for another tour of service. They did this knowing that they likely would be asked to deploy again during the term of their new enlistment. Needless to say I cannot say enough about these and all our great young Americans in uniform and there is no question in my mind that they deserve the description that Tom Brokaw offered after seeing them in action in Iraq, calling them, America's new greatest generation.

Beyond that I can assure you that there is no greater privilege than serving with the members of the new greatest generation as they strive to do what our country has asked of them. We should all be very proud of them and grateful for their courage, commitment, determination, and skill. They are our very best and it has been an honor to describe their actions to you today.



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