The Name Too Dangerous to Mention

  • May 29, 2009
  • Abu Muqawama
  • Pakistan

Neither David Petraeus nor I got any love from NPR's Steve Inskeep this morning. Petraeus was grilled pretty hard on civilian casualties and drone strikes in Pakistan both. On several occassions, though, Inskeep mentioned "David Kilcullen and his coauthor" without ever actually saying my name. This is bush, Steve Inskeep. Fellow Americans, when will the injustice end?

Steve Inskeep: David Kilcullen, who was an advisor to you in counterinsurgency strategies in Iraq for a couple of years, wrote an article in The New York Times, in which he and a coauthor called for a moratorium and they were arguing that this kind of airstrike costs more than it's worth.

Gen. David Petraeus: Well, again, I'm not going to talk about specific types of attacks. In particular, again, we never comment on the drone attacks. What I will say is that we should and must be concerned about the incidents of civilian casualties. We are there to secure the people, to serve them; it's a big challenge. Indeed, we don't want our forces going into combat with one hand tied behind their back, but we also cannot take actions that might produce tactical victories but undermine the efforts strategically. And that's this tension, if you will, between, again, employing all the assets that we have but making sure that we do it in a way that doesn't undermine the overall effort, which is the result, if indeed there is significant civilian casualties.

This seemed to be your former advisor's argument: that you were building up a, what he called a visceral opposition to airstrikes against targets that may well be valid but civilians are killed. That it's undermining confidence, for example, in the government of Pakistan, which is allied with the United States, that it's turning people against your effort. Has the use of air power, the way it's being used in Afghanistan and Pakistan, cost you more than it's worth?

It has certainly cost us. Again, 'more than it's worth' is certainly a very very difficult judgement to make. But what I will say is, again, that there is enough concern about this that first of all, I would send in a brigadier general from outside to conduct an investigation that I would sit down with him for two and a half hours, real late at night to go through this with him. And that we will then take action based on the lessons learned from this when it has been finalized.

Your former advisor Kilcullen, a very strongly worded column, there was also an analogy that he uses in that column, he and his coauthor say: if you were living in a neighborhood and some burglars moved into the neighborhood and the police came in and began blowing up houses as a way to respond to the burglars he thinks the people would turn against the police. Is there some power to that analogy?

There is as he laid it out. And again, the challenge is to make sure that that kind of analogy isn't what is reality. It is hugely important that as we bring our additional forces in to Afghanistan, as they begin to go into action, that they not be seen as would-be conquerors, but that they are rather seen as those who are there to help the people, not to endanger them. And that gets at the heart of what David Kilcullen is explaining.