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US Papers Thu: Afghanistan, Here He Comes
Petraeus promoted to run both wars; Odierno takes over as top US general in Iraq
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 04/24/2008 01:54 AM ET
Hey, Gen. Petraeus, you've just completed what looks like a successful counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq. What are you going to do now? Answer: He's going to CENTCOM! (Headquartered in Tampa, it's at least close to Disney World.) Today's papers are awash with the news that the general is getting kicked upstairs, adding Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa to his brief. Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno will take his place as the top American commander in Iraq. But that's not the only news today, with the Christian Science Monitor throwing in a look at the new U.S. Embassy and the Washington Post noting that attacks on the Green Zone are down sharply. No send-off rocket attacks for the general, it seems.

Petraeus promotion
Ann Scott Tyson and Thomas E. Ricks of the Post have the story on Petraeus's promotion, which was announced by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates at a presser yesterday. The promotion will allow the general to oversee Iraq strategy for the U.S. "for years to come," as the two Posties write. Odierno will receive a fourth star and take Petraeus's place. Both men were destined for new posts, with Odierno tapped two months ago to be the Army's vice chief of staff and Petraeus rumored to be eyed for NATO commander. But with the resignation of Adm. William "Fox" Fallon in March, all that got shaken up. In addition to Petraeus and Odierno, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli will be nominated as the new Army vice chief of staff. All these promotions mark an ascendancy of battlefield commanders to rise to top posts, just as what happened in World War II. Here the Post does a good job laying out Petraeus's career path, from commander of the 101st during the Iraq invasion, to a three-star commanding the building of Iraq's forces to his current job. Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in the Sunni Triangle before taking his spot as Petraeus's No. 2. This means the two men most responsible for the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and the surge are now running both U.S. wars. What this means for Afghanistan is still a little unclear, because Petraeus has focused on Iraq like a laser for the last four of the five years. This intensity won him the ear of President George W. Bush, but which led to serious tensions between himself and Fallon.

"One fascinating question will be the degree to which Petraeus's Iraq counterinsurgency doctrine will work in Afghanistan," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Petraeus's confirmation is considered a "fait accompli," but it will come at a critical time for decisions on troop levels in Iraq. It looks like Petraeus will now make an immediate decision on whether to keep troops in Iraq or continue drawdowns after the 45-day evaluation period, following the end of the surge in July. Odierno would then take up the evaluations after that.

Iran has been a primary concern for both Petraeus and Odierno, so how their new commands will be received in Tehran is also unclear. Fallon, again, differed with Bush and his general, considering an attack on Iran a bad idea. But Petraeus and Odierno have both said they consider Iran the primary threat in Iraq.

The New York Times's Thom Shanker has the story, but it's nowhere nearly as in-depth as the Post's. It does however raise the interesting idea that Petraeus was promoted specifically so he could bring that special COIN magic to Afghanistan, where the allied effort is widely seen as lagging. Is the surge coming to the Khyber Pass? Anyway, the Times gets some comments from the candidates, with Sen. John McCain weirdly saying Odierno is "not perfect, but I think he has done a magnificent job." Huh? Naturally, he heaped praise on Petraeus. In all, these developments point to a long-term troop presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yochi J. Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal says policy will stay the same in Iraq while the Afghan portfolio will receive an overhaul. "The challenges that we face elsewhere in the region in the Central Command area are very much characterized by asymmetric warfare," said Gates. "And I don't know anybody in the U.S. military better qualified to lead that effort." Democrats are concerned that as CENTCOM commander, Petraeus might be too focused on his old war, rather than on his new one in Afghanistan. "Congress must ensure that Gen. Petraeus does not bring an Iraq bias to his new job at the expense of America's broader security needs," said Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a statement.

Gordon Lubold and Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor note that Petraeus might be able to refocus NATO's attention on Afghanistan, which has been drifting for a while. This is the one story to flick at that idea that Petraeus might have enough stature and credibility to persuade the Europeans to deploy to more combat-heavy areas of Afghanistan. What's going to be interesting, the two write, is how Odierno adapts. He was criticized for heavy-handedness while commanding the 4th ID in Iraq, but he was the first to ask for more troops and has since softened his approach while commanding day-to-day operations there. Now he has to think diplomatically and strategically as well. Can he do it?

USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook reports that observers say Odierno's nomination ensures a continuity of strategy in Iraq. "Odierno had a reputation in his first tour as part of the kick-down-the-doors crew," said Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and international relations professor at Boston University. "By the time of his second tour, he had become a convert to counterinsurgency. My expectation is that he would hew to the same." Odierno's knowledge of Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders, won from time on the ground will do him in good stead, it's hoped.

Finally, Jim Michaels of USA Today takes a dedicated look at the questions swirling around Petraeus and Afghanistan, and whether he will be able to work well with NATO, which has command of most of the combat units there. Can "Gen. Petraeus objectively assess priorities as the overall commander of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan?" asked Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration.

Over there
Meanwhile, back in Iraq, Howard LaFranchi of the Monitor writes that Iraqis see the new, mammoth embassy in Baghdad as a symbol of occupation. "We see the size of this embassy and we think we will be part of the American plan for our country and our region for many, many years," said Anouar, a Baghdad graduate student. Iraqis call it a "castle," and say it reminds them of Saddam's palaces. It will cost more than $1 billion a year to operate.

The Times's Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin write that the U.S. commanders blame Iranian-backed "special groups" for three-quarters of all attacks that kill or wound American soldiers in Baghdad. When you get past the leade, which sounds damn alarming, you find that roadside bombs the military said was planted by these groups cause 73 percent of casualties. There was apparently no evidence for this presented at the press conference. At the same presser, Col. Allen Batschelet, the Baghdad division's chief of staff, said 114 rocket and mortar attacks had hit the Green Zone in the past month, with 82 percent being fired from Sadr City. Far more -- 292 -- struck other American and coalition bases, however, and 291 hit Iraqis.

Amit R. Paley was at the same presser, and reports a different spin. U.S. and Iraqi efforts have been largely successful in shutting down these rocket attack sites, Batschelet said. At least 142 suspected fighters have been killed in the Sadr City battling, with at least 15 killed on Tuesday night. Also announced, a U.S. soldier was killed by small arms fire in eastern Baghdad.

Home front
Recent Pulitzer-winner Steve Fainaru of the Post reports that a body found near Basra is that of Jonathan Cote, a private security contractor kidnapped along with four others on Nov. 16, 2006.

The Post's Dana Milbank reports that the Pentagon is doing everything it can to keep press away from military funerals, even when the family invites the press up close. The funeral he tried to attend was that of Lt. Col. Billy Hall, one of the most senior officers to be killed in the Iraq war. He says the de facto ban on covering funerals "fits neatly" with administration efforts to sanitize the war, leading to a case of disinterest with it among the American people.

The refugee file
Mariah Blake of the Monitor reports that Iraqi refugees are beginning to be turned away from former havens such as Sweden. The Nordic country has seen 49,000 Iraqi pour into the country, a trickle of the 4.7 million Iraqis that have been displaced by the war. This large influx has strained Sweden's social safety net and overwhelmed small towns. Almost alone among the EU, Sweden is bearing the heaviest load. Now, even that door is starting to close for fleeing Iraqis, with a recent court ruling ordering that prospective refugees must show they are in personal danger, a tighter requirement than the previous one, which listed Iraq as a state with a civil war.

IN OTHER COVERAGE

USA Today
The USA Today editorial board is outraged that television news has been tainted by the effort by the Pentagon to spin the war using "surrogate" generals as military analysts.

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