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Petraeus’ Model for the ‘Extended Surge’ in Afghanistan

In 2007, Gen. David Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, testified to Congress about how he envisioned the war ending. It turned out that he had a method for the war’s ending phases, but not a timetable for when they would occur. But the final phases he called “transition to overwatch.” By that, he meant that the U.S. would gradually end its combat role, shift it to the Iraqi security forces, and lurk in the background to ensure nothing catastrophic occurred.

In 2009, Petraeus is the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia. His key allies for the Iraq surge remain in the Obama administration: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Adm. Michael Mullen — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — and National Security Council “war czar” Doug Lute all have essentially the same jobs. Another Petraeus partner, the former Joint Special Operations Command chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is now the commander of the Afghanistan war. So it’s perhaps not surprising that what Obama will describe at West Point for phasing down the Afghanistan war starting in July 2011 looks a lot like “transition to overwatch.”

Senior administration officials previewing the speech said July 2011 begins an open-ended process of gradual transition of combat responsibilities from U.S. troops to their Afghan pupils. The pace and ultimate endpoint of that transition has not been set, and officials said it would be evaluated “province by province.” Similarly, the correlative withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is undetermined and will be evaluated based not on timetables, but on conditions on the ground — pending another review of Afghanistan strategy, which I am told is likely to occur by the end of 2010.

As a result, administration officials aren’t calling this a “surge” or an “escalation,” exactly. They’re calling this an “extended surge.” Why? Because they found a third option — neither a one-tour increase of combat brigades nor an open-ended deployment of additional forces. Instead, troop levels levels will rise to around 98,000 by summer 2010 and stay there until 2011 (about a year to 18 months, roughly) and then they *could *come down significantly soon afterward, pending conditions on the ground. Or they could stay *mostly *around 98,000, pending conditions on the ground. Or they could find some midpoint, pending con — you get the idea. Hence an “extended surge.” Expect to hear that phrase a lot.

Kind of makes sense, given the enduring influence of the Petraeus-Gates-Lute-Mullen-McChrystal team.

Oh, and I’ll be live-tweeting the speech, as liveblogging is so 2007. You can follow me at twitter.com/attackerman.

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