The morning after the day before - and General David Petraeus is packing his bags to relocate to Kabul, and take over the job his subordinate, General Stanley McChrystal was doing until Wednesday.
First there is the formality of Congressional approval, likely next week. But the General is likely to be questioned closely on the terms and speed of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Last week, he appeared to be lukewarm both about the deadline set by President Obama (of July 2011) - describing it as "the date when a process begins based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits."
To clarify the terms of the debate, the Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, said Wednesday that he had spoken with Petraeus, who had agreed that "a conditions-based withdrawal referred to how it will happen, rather than if it will begin." It may seem a fine debating point, but it isn't.There may also be some penetrating questions about the counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Some six months ago, General Petraeus told the Financial Times that Afghanistanâ€™s absence of a history of strong central government was a key difference from Iraq, where Petraeus' "surge" and the co-opting of Sunni insurgents is credited with turning the course of the war.
Today the FT observes: "In the past six months, the question of how far the actions of the many powerful actors within the Afghan state are aligned with western goals has resurfaced in increasingly striking form." It is a polite way of asking whether President Hamid Karzai is on board with U.S. goals. (The Afghan government has warmly welcomed Petraeus' appointment as the new International Security Assistance Force commander.)
Exhibit A is the town of Marjah in Helmand province - the focus of a long-planned operation in February, McChrystal promised to "deliver government in a box" once the Taliban were removed. It has been more difficult than that; and at the end of May McChrystal - using the blunt language for which he's become even more famous - described the area as "a bleeding ulcer."
An analysis by the Jamestown Foundation describes Marjah in this way: "Military operations, by their very nature, are about seizing and holding terrain. This canâ€™t help but relegate the fate of human beings to secondary status, a condition that is fundamentally at odds with a population-centric counterinsurgency. It remains to be seen, on balance, how this will shape future perceptions of success and failure â€“ particularly once ISAF turns to much more challenging objectives like securing Kandahar."
On an entirely separate security note: Is there something happening in Germany with jihadists? A German man in his mid-twenties is being held in Pakistan, after being detained while dressed in a burqa allegedly trying to make his way to the tribal territories. He's accused of being an expert bomb-maker for the Taliban. According to reports from Pakistan, he's told officials there are many more like him up in the hills - Scandinavians too.
Another German man is being questioned in Yemen in connection with the suicide bomb attack on the British ambassador's motorcade in April.
And there are several YouTube videos of young German men in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border – fighters with a variety of jihadist groups, especially the Uzbek-dominated Islamic Jihad Union in Waziristan.