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Afghanistan: the challenges ahead for Petraeus

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 24 June 2010

The removal of McChrystal is a significant setback, and although the newly appointed general is hailed as the hero of Iraq, greater challenges await him in Afghanistan, writes Colonel Richard Kemp for Channel 4 News.

General Petraeus (Getty)

The removal of General McChrystal is a significant setback for the campaign in Afghanistan.

McChrystal was an extremely able and imaginative military commander. He devised the current strategy. Leadership is critically important and it is normally the case that a commander who makes the plan is the best person to drive it through to completion with passion and zeal.

A setback but not a crisis. The choice of General Petraeus to replace McChrystal was inspired. Until yesterday Petraeus was his boss and had significant involvement in the development of the strategy. Widely respected in political and military circles, he will immediately gain the confidence of Nato allies and the Afghans.

Petraeus is also credited with allied success in Iraq. Although critics argue that violence continues there, his surge and his handling of the local militias was masterly and resulted in a very significant improvement in the situation.

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Afghanistan brings different, perhaps greater, challenges for General Petraeus. He must build and blood the Afghan security forces to take over the campaign's heavy lifting. Although not fully his responsibility he must also play a significant role in developing and reforming the Afghan government. Without adequate progress in both areas we have no chance of achieving our objectives.

In parallel, the Taliban's capability must be undermined - by killing and capturing their fighters, removing their support base among the population and by attempting to split off those insurgents that can be persuaded to give up their violent opposition to the government.

Perhaps most critically, the Taliban must be undermined in Pakistan, a theatre with which the general is very familiar as Commander of CENTCOM.

Drone strikes will continue, and more efforts are needed to coordinate cross-border operations. But the greatest emphasis should be placed on getting the Pakistani intelligence services and army to cut off support to the insurgents.

Will trouble at the top slow Afghan progress?
It was a pretty harsh move, designed perhaps to cure the impression that Obama is a soft-touch, indecisive, slow to move, writes Asia Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

Even Robert Gates, the defence secretary, counselled against it. But in the end McChrystal had to go. The logic is there: how can allies and Afghans listen to US policy if the face of it's military moves has so openly rubbished - or allowed his staff to rubbish - everyone who's not actually under his command.

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The Taliban like nothing better than disunity among their enemies, and lost no time yesterday in issuing a communiqué hailing McChrystal's removal as the beginning of the end for the Nato alliance.

General Petraeus must continue to challenge his political leaders as his predecessor did. But he should do so behind closed and sound-proofed doors, away from the prying eyes and ears of the media, ensuring that publicly there is not even a hairline of difference between his thinking and the president's.

Colonel Richard Kemp

In return President Obama has a clear responsibility to put behind the war every ounce of commitment that is needed to win.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red.

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