Retired General David Petraeus shares insights at Judson Forum


Former CIA Director and retired Four-Star Army General David Petraeus spoke at the Judson University World Leaders Forum on Friday at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg.

Petraeus spoke about the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and shared highlights of his 37-year career, including overseeing US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and leading the CIA under former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama.

Petraeus resigned in 2012 after an affair with his biographer came to light in an FBI investigation. He eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information and was sentenced to two years probation and a fine of $ 100,000.

Here are excerpts from his question-and-answer session with Mark Vargas, a former Judson who served as a civilian on a special Iraq Defense Task Force.

Q. Thoughts on what happened in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops?

Petraeus: I’ve said for years that what we should achieve in Afghanistan is what you might call … lasting engagement. We have to understand that Afghanistan is not Iraq. Afghanistan is just a place you can’t win. You can handle it … and handling it is as good as it gets. In fact, I immediately thought it was going to be catastrophic. I said three months in advance that I feared a psychological collapse of the Afghan forces. They’ve fought before, that’s just when they knew no one would come to the rescue because we brought in 18,000 contractors to maintain the very sophisticated helicopters and planes supplied by the Americans, that was the key to their entire defensive strategy. I cannot describe these results as anything other than heartbreaking, tragic and downright disastrous. On the one hand, it is an extraordinary logistical achievement to get 123,000 people out in less than two weeks through the tragic loss of 13 of our young men and women in uniform and nearly 200 innocent Afghan civilians. But, on the other hand, absolutely chaotic, and certainly not in the way those of us who served in this would have liked it to end.

Q. What can the United States learn from what happened in Afghanistan?

Petraeus: There are a lot of lessons. We didn’t get the right inputs in Afghanistan for nine years. The leaders of our country very quickly focused on Iraq. We have devoted our attention to it. It then went badly. It was truly almost unrecoverable. Everything was devoted to Iraq. Afghanistan, we did what we could. We made mistakes… sometimes we invested more money in problems than we should have… it took us too long to set up something like this anti-corruption task force. In the end, what happened was we just ran out of steam.

Q. Where were you on September 11th?

Petraeus: I was deployed to Bosnia as a one star general. I was the head of operations for the NATO stabilization force in Bosnia and the deputy commander of the largest intelligence deployment to find war criminals.

Q. Thoughts on the war in Iraq?

Petraeus: In a situation like the one we experienced in Iraq, you have to have security. Security is necessary but not sufficient. You are competing for the hearts and minds of the people. Iraq was completely out of control. We were on the brink of a full-fledged Sunni-Shiite civil war. But once you get security you solidify it by then, which you do by building on it, improving basic services, showing people they should support us, then the new Iraq, rather than Al-Qaida and the insurgents or the Iranians. supported the Shiite militias. Nation building, I know, gets criticism from time to time, but it’s absolutely essential.

Q. Who influenced you during your very young military career?

Petraeus: You obviously find influences from those you serve with. The command sergeant major (of the 101st Airborne Division) who made four of those five combat tours with me. It’s a lot, a lot of people. The term leader … it’s just someone that others take inspiration from, example, energy, direction. It’s not just those whose title might be commander, or president, or mayor, or whatever. There are a lot of people along the way. In life, you don’t just want to be the best overall, you also have to be the best team player. In fact, I married the daughter of the superintendent of West Point (military academy), a four star general. He was really what I wanted to be. He was a soldier, a scholar, a statesman. And that’s what I was trying to be.

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