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A General's Farewell

By David Ignatius - June 29, 2011

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During an interview in his office here, Petraeus offered an unusual self-assessment when I asked him to list his strengths and weaknesses as commander.

At the top of his list of positives was creation of the Afghan Local Police, a bottom-up security initiative that recognized Afghanistan's tribal makeup and was initially resisted and then embraced by Karzai. He also mentioned the anti-corruption campaign headed by his longtime adviser, Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster. And he cited development of the framework for transition to Afghan security control, province by province, that will commence next month.

I asked Petraeus about the broader issue of his leadership style, which is intense and focused, even by military standards. A small example is the way he cleaned up the NATO coalition's headquarters, which was a dilapidated mess under previous commanders. What he did was simple but decisive: He says he walked around the compound with the base commandant for 30 minutes and told him what to fix. The brooms and paint brushes followed quickly.

Petraeus' self-critique focused on areas that led to friction with the Afghan population, undermining the counterinsurgency goal. He says he should have moved more quickly to rein in private security contractors, whose presence was a major irritant to Afghans. And he should have worked harder to reduce coalition-caused civilian casualties, which declined on his watch but still angered Karzai and the nation.

What's hard to imagine is that after 37 years in the Army, Petraeus is finally taking off the uniform -- one so heavy with the battle ribbons that symbolize his ambition and achievement. He says it will be easier because he is joining another "family" of service at the CIA. It would be harder, he says, if he were heading to the beach to contemplate lucrative business or book-writing offers. Next week he will celebrate the Fourth of July in a combat post for the seventh time in the last nine years. He says that "taking the final pass-in-review" may "start to weigh more heavily in the weeks ahead."

 

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davidignatius@washpost.com

Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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