Petraeus: More Work Needed on Afghan Timeline

Army Gen. David Petraeus talks with "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric Aug. 20, 2010.
Army Gen. David Petraeus talks with "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric Aug. 20, 2010.

It's the controversy that just won't go away: President Obama's plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan next July.

Special Section: Afghanistan | The Road Ahead

"CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric asked Army Gen. David Petreaus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, about that date and the impact it's having.

"Is this July 2011 timeline undermining your efforts?" Couric asked. "Is it hard to get the Afghan people to trust U.S. soldiers, which is such an important component of counterinsurgency, because they're fearful that U.S. troops will leave?"

"It's not a date when there's an exodus of U.S. or coalition forces," said Petraeus. "It's not when we look for the light switch to turn it off before we head out the door. We've been to some pains, frankly, to explain that here in Afghanistan. There's been a positive impact in the sense that this has given the effort greater urgency."

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"We've heard it from everyone: from Afghan people, from people who are in the parliament here, from Pakistanis, even many of our European allies are saying, 'Hey, if they're leaving, we're out of here, too," Couric said.

"Well, I think we have to keep explaining it," said Patraeus. "Again, we've done this over and over and over again, and we clearly have more work to do in that regard."

"You have said that a withdrawal will be conditions-based, and I'm just curious, what conditions are those?" Couric asked.

"What you do is say, 'Let's look at the situation on the ground or in the institution. What's the enemy situation? What's the friendly situation? Can we safely without too much risk thin out our forces?' said Petraeus. "Because that's the way you do it. You thin out, you don't just hand off to them and say, 'Tag, you're it.'"

"Can you really rid the world of terrorists or is it like whack-a-mole?" asked Couric. "You can target them in one country, neutralize them and then they just pop up somewhere else like Pakistan or Yemen? Can't terrorists these days operate from anywhere?"

"They can operate from anywhere where there is inadequate governance," Petraeus said.

"Well, you can never completely safeguard against terrorist attacks, no matter how great the government is," Couric said.

"Of course, you can't," said Petraeus. "What you have to do though is everything you can wherever it is that you see that extremists are putting down roots, so it's not just whack-a-mole. It's whacking as many moles as you can wherever they pop their head out of a hole."

"Finally, this is a grueling job 24/7; how do you stay focused, inspired and committed to this job, given the demands of it?" Couric asked.

"This is not about one person," said Petraeus. "It's about a team and a team of teams, and when people say, 'You've got a heavy … job, General Petraeus,' my response is that there are innumerable great, young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, coalition and Afghan partners who are helping to carry that rucksack."

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