Petraeus: "The commitment to Afghanistan is necessarily ... an enduring one"

The money bit from his opening statement at this morning’s confirmation hearing. “Commitment” can mean many things — foreign aid, military trainers, or, er, 90,000+ troops — so he’s careful not to be too specific lest he make any promises that The One won’t keep. He was more candid in his written answers to the Armed Services Committee, though:

But even in his own writing to the committee, Petraeus acknowledged that the enemy, the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, are waiting out the coalition and biding their time until foreign forces decide to leave.

“Insurgent leaders view their tactical and operational losses in 2010 as inevitable and acceptable. The Taliban believe they can outlast the Coalition’s will to fight and believe this strategy will be effective despite short-term losses. The Taliban also believe they can sustain momentum and maintain operational capacity,” he wrote.

Note the part about Taliban losses this year being “inevitable.” According to an NYT piece this morning, special-ops wizard Stan McChrystal has been putting quite a hurt on jihadi middle management lately, icing 130 capos in just 120 days. What’s that doing to Taliban morale? David Ignatius reports:

Taliban prisoners have told U.S. interrogators that this pounding in Afghanistan — coupled with attacks by Predator drones on their havens in Pakistan — has taken a psychological toll. According to the senior military official, lower-level fighters complain, “Hey, we’re doing all the dying out here,” and ask their commanders, “How much longer can we put up with this?”

The answer: Just 12 more months, assuming Obama agrees with Pelosi’s diktat about a “serious drawdown.” One of Petraeus’s goals here, very obviously, is to undo that glimmer of hope in the enemy’s mind in the expectation that it’ll push them closer to the bargaining table. That’s one form of pressure; the other, not seen in either clip below, is the heavy-handed hints he’s dropping about relaxing the rules of engagement. Danger Room:

McChrystal went further in restricting troops’ ability to use force than Petraeus did in Iraq. McChrystal cut way back on the use of air cover for U.S. troops in firefights, instructed them to give Afghans the right of way on highways, and urged them to cut off battles when insurgents retreat to populated areas. The biggest overlooked aspect of Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece that ended McChrystal’s career was the frustration troops in Afghanistan felt under the rules of engagement — fairly or unfairly.

So, to send a new signal to those troops, Petraeus called it a “moral imperative” to allow troops “all the support they need when they are in a tough situation.” He said discussed it with the Afghan leadership over the last few days and indicated that he secured their “full agreement” for that principle.

Follow the link and read the update for how Petraeus is framing the rule change. He doesn’t want to embarrass McChrystal by declaring that his ROEs were too restrictive, so instead he’s spinning it as a case of some of the rank-and-file not having understood what big Mac wanted them to do. To-may-to, to-mah-to: Whatever he needs to say to make this go down smoothly, let him say it. Two clips for you, then, one of his opening statement and the other of his exchange with Lindsey Graham, who wanted to know what Petraeus thought of Barbara Lee’s idea to condition funding for the war on delivery of a withdrawal strategy by the Pentagon to Congress. You’ll have to watch to the end for Petraeus to say the magic words — “conditions-based” — but they’re there. Exit question: Per Gallup, 58 percent support Obama’s July 2011 “transition” timetable. If the mission flounders for another six months and that inches up to 66-67 percent or so, how’s The One going to resist the political pressure next year to get out? Click the first image to watch.