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Opinion: US General Petraeus hedges bet on Afghan exit

Not two months since the US president dismissed his Afghan commander, Stanley McChrystal, over public differences of opinion, his choice of successor General David Petraeus, seems to be going down the same route.

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It came like a bombshell in the US, where news has been rather thin during the summer slump. General Petraeus has barely had time to get to grips with the situation in Afghanistan before he set off on a collision course with the White House.

In a series of major interviews with the US media, his first since assuming command in Afghanistan, he stated that the withdrawal date announced by President Obama was not cast in iron and that it was conditions-based. The president, with a focus on the American public and the upcoming midterm elections in November, has courageously set the date for mid-2011.

The Afghan mission, with its increasingly high number of US casualties and dubious prospects of success, is increasingly unpopular in the US. July was the deadliest month yet for US soldiers, with 66 being killed.

However, the US military commanders in Afghanistan know that mid-2011 is too soon for transferring responsibility for the security situation to the Afghans. Many Afghan soldiers are still relatively badly educated and they are chronically underpaid. There is also a significant danger that soldiers will go over to the Taliban with their weapons.

Daniel Scheschkewitz

Daniel Scheschkewitz

But General Petraeus also knows that the announced withdrawal will have an impact on the other countries in the NATO alliance – none of which seem to want to stay any longer than absolutely necessary in Afghanistan. The mission has turned out to be too dangerous and not promising enough in terms of success in recent years.

Afghanistan is becoming a thorn in the side of many political leaders in the alliance, not only that of President Obama. From The Hague to Berlin and to Warsaw there is a common desire for the US to relieve its allies of their responsibilities in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Moreover, Obama's popularity in the US is down. Rarely has a midterm election been won by the party of a president whose ratings are below 50 percent. If the Democrats no longer have a majority in the House of Representatives, Obama will be robbed of his room for maneuver.

General Petraeus' recent hedge betting is a further sign of the fragile relationship between the US military leadership and the man in the White House. The generals would like more staying power from the politicians but they also want maximum financial support for the extremely difficult task they have to fulfill in Afghanistan. Washington is in short supply of both. The Afghanistan mission – as the top commander's comments also shows – has long been a matter of politics.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / act

Editor: Disha Uppal

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