Petraeus tells cadets military will follow Obama's commands

November 5, 2009

Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Forces throughout the Middle East, said he’s continuing talks with the White House about strategy in Afghanistan, but in the end will do whatever he’s told.

Petraeus spoke to hundreds of cadets at the Air Force Academy on Thursday, telling them his secrets to leadership. He addressed Afghanistan when one cadet asked him how he would handle a disagreement with President Barack Obama on strategy there.

“We will support the decision that is made by the president,” said Petraeus, who heads U.S. Central Command.

The general signaled that any change is more about how troops are used rather than how many are sent to battle. He addressed his strategy in Iraq during the 2007 “surge” that sent troops into cities to enforce security, clearing out insurgents ahead of rebuilding work.

“The surge was more than 30,000 extra troops,” he said. “It was a surge of ideas.”

He cited the Iraq changes, including pushing soldiers into neighborhoods, as a key to victory in Iraq. That’s starting to happen in Afghanistan, as soldiers pull out of remote areas to concentrate on securing cities and towns.

For the past month, President Obama has been mulling a troop increase in Afghanistan to counter a radical spike in violence that has taken a massive toll at Fort Carson. The post, which has about 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, lost 17 soldiers in October, making it the deadliest month for the post since Vietnam.

While public statements about the long wait for a new strategy haven’t been forthcoming from the military, some officers at Fort Carson have privately complained that the delay is decaying morale as soldiers continue to fight and die in the absence of a plan.

Petraeus gave no timeline for a White House decision on Afghanistan strategy, but said “principals” will met in Washington on Friday and he plans to meet with Obama on Saturday.

“It’s critical that we reverse the cycle of violence in Afghanistan,” he said.

The general also urged the cadets to study liberal arts topics from history to languages, have fun and “do off-the-wall stuff” to prepare them for wartime command.

He said adventures at this stage in their military life would enable them to think broadly when presented with the problems of counter-insurgency.

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