Just as a new book by Bob Woodward suggests President Obama has butted heads with his senior military advisors in his quest for a quick exit strategy from Afghanistan, the top American commander in the nine-year-old war insists he's going nowhere fast.
Gen. David Petraeus has told The Times (subscription) of London that Mr. Obama's July 2011 deadline to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in the country is, "not a date when we rush for the exit and reach for the light switch to turn it out before leaving the room."
"I am conscious of the fact that the Afghan clock doesn't always move quite as rapidly as folks in other locations would like to see it move and as we would like to see it move," he told the newspaper in a Kabul interview.
"There are clocks in Washington and in London and other capitals that are also ticking rapidly. Our job obviously is to do the best we can to produce progress to show that this is the right approach and that it has the best prospect of achieving our important objectives here in Afghanistan," said Petraeus.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier in September that U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan should be able to start handing off responsibility for security to the Afghans next year, echoing President Obama's stated goals.
Petraeus did offer a staunch defense of the President's chosen strategy in the Afghan war, dubbed a hybrid counter-insurgency plan, but conceded it had caused him some "frustration and impatience," according to The Times article
The General's remarks to The Times are similar to cautionary notes he's sounded in recent months -- he's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to be rushed out of the Afghan fight for political reasons.
The war commander said late last month he had drafted operational guidelines to implement Afghan President Hamid Karzai's goal of having Afghan police and soldiers take the lead in the country's 34 provinces by 2014, as security allows.
There are still serious doubts as to whether the Afghans will be ready to handle their own security, even four years from now.
"These guidelines recognize that this is a process, not an event," he said. "It will typically represent a thinning out of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces not a hand-off per se."
That stance was reiterated in the latest interview, with Petraeus telling The Times the July 2011 date would represent the beginning of a "process" -- not an imminent departure.