NASHVILLE, Tenn., (AP) — Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he expects there will be a threat from extremists to disrupt the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq, but adequate security forces are there.
Petraeus, who spoke to reporters Monday before a speech at Vanderbilt University, said security in Iraq has greatly improved over the last two-and-a-half years but elements of al-Qaeda and Shia militia remain.
“In December 2006, every 24 hours on average there were 53 dead bodies in the streets of Baghdad,” he said.
He said attacks in Iraq have dropped from an average of 220 per day at the height of the violence to less than 20 a day over the last six months.
The military is on track to reduce the number of troops there to 50,000 by the end of August and those that remain will have an advise and assist mission, he said.
Petraeus took questions submitted by the audience at Vanderbilt and focused on the surge strategy against al-Qaeda in Iraq that combined civilian and military efforts to reconcile fighters and improving the security situation while partnering with other governments.
He said this “whole of governments” approach is becoming the regional approach to combating extremism after showing success in Iraq.
“We learned a great deal in Iraq about what it takes to make progress in a civil-military campaign plan,” but he said that’s not to say Afghanistan is the same situation.
In Afghanistan, about 4,500 of the 30,000 additional troops ordered to Afghanistan have already arrived, he said. He noted that a number of important developments have started in Afghanistan, including increased cooperation with Afghan security forces and reconciliation of lower level Taliban fighters.
“One of the challenges is to determine who can be reconciled and who cannot be reconciled,” he said.
He also lauded the creation of pacts with tribes like the Shinwari, which dominate five districts of about 600,000 people in Nangarhar province, to assisting in the reintegration of former fighters. The pacts have been compared to the turnaround in Anbar Province in Iraq, led by tribal leaders fed up with al-Qaeda. But Petraeus warned against reading too much into the agreements just yet.
“This is not necessarily the Anbar Awakening in its infancy, but these are important developments,” he said.
Despite the military’s efforts to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Petraeus acknowledged there have still been recent incidents of innocent civilians being killed by airstrikes or other attacks by NATO forces.
“I think that the general consensus is that the tactical directive and other instructions are sound, but the key is proper implementation,” he said.
Just returned from a visit to Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where Pakistani troops last year fought offensives to oust Taliban fighters, Petraeus said the next challenge will be keeping them from returning.
“What they did there was very impressive,” he said. “It was a textbook counterinsurgency operation.”
He said he has been increasingly focused for the last couple of years on Al-Qaeda forces in Yemen, which had ties to the recent airline bombing plot on Christmas Day.
He said the government in Yemen has attempted to clamp down on extremists, but he noted the country was also dealing with many challenges including separatists in the south and economic difficulties.
“The fact is that Yemen has gone after al-Qaeda over the course of the last three months,” he said. “The government clearly realizes that more work needs to be done.”