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"Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is also not Vietnam … . It is Afghanistan," said General David Petraeus.
In saying so, Petraeus warned that the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops is not going to suddenly transform the situation in Afghanistan, as a similar "surge" did in Iraq.
"There will be no planting a flag and going home to a victory parade," the head of U.S. Central Command told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. "These are long hard slogs."
But neither, Petraeus said, must Afghanistan become the graveyard of the American empire, as some critics of the war suggest. By next December, after a bloody fighting season in which violence and allied casualties will rise, the U.S. should see signs of improvement, Petraeus promised.
"Everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time," he said. But "hard is not hopeless."
It was the general's turn to appear before Congress and put his credibility and his reputation on the line in support of President Barack Obama's decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Yesterday, General Stanley McChrystal had the honor, in appearances before the House and Senate armed services committees.
Like McChrystal, Petraeus endorsed Obama's decision to escalate the American involvement which, the general said, should allow the U.S. and allied troops to "degrade the Taliban to levels manageable" by Afghan security forces.
To do so, however, the U.S. will have to put immense pressure on the Afghan government, which is riddled with corruption, said Petraeus. Victory won't come unless Afghanistan's government is "increasingly seen as serving the people rather than preying on them" — as it is now.
Petraeus had one bit of optimism to share with the senators. He believed that the war being waged against the Taliban by the Pakistan army on the other side of the border with Afghanistan is succeeding, and that the Pakistan state has stabilized after a year of turmoil. "I actually don't think that the current challenges imperil civilian rule," said the general.
On the other hand, Petraeus warned the members of the committee to keep their demands on Pakistan in check. The Pakistan army is proceeding with legitimate caution, said the general: "You can only stick short sticks into so many hornets' nests at one time."