General David Petraeus remarks at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference

General David H. Petraeus,  the current Commander of US Central Command, spoke at RUSI's Land Warfare Conference on 9 June 2010. General Petraeus spoke of the enduring relationship between British and US Armed forces.

General David H. Petraeus from RUSI Online on Vimeo.

Text of speech


I'm delighted to have been invited by Michael Clarke and General David Richards to be here today and to have this opportunity, alongside Peter Wall, to discuss the role of partnerships and alliances in addressing the security challenges and conflicts of the future. 

This is a particularly timely topic, given that the security relationship between our two nations is closer today than at any time, perhaps, since the Second World War, and the nature of the common threats we face among the most challenging at any time since World War II as well.

Of course, our relationship goes beyond a simple statement of common threats and shared objectives.  There is a deeper connection - indeed, an inherent and abiding trust -- between those who wear my country's uniform and those who serve in Her Majesty's armed forces.  Indeed, we in the U.S. military feel very privileged to serve alongside your Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Royal Marines, as well as with your civilians.  The qualities your countrymen exhibit -- their initiative, innovativeness, and sheer competence, not to mention their moral and physical courage -- should be a tremendous source of pride to all of you.  And at CENTCOM headquarters we see those qualities every day in the large contingent of extremely talented British officers we're fortunate to have serving directly on our staff and in the robust UK liaison team that is stationed with us.

In fact, those officers -- who so selflessly serve a hardship tour in sunny South-Central Florida -- not only bring tremendous expertise and skill; they also provide those wonderful British gifts of understatement and dry humor.  A few months back, for example, as I took the daily CENTCOM staff briefing by video teleconference, a couple of our British staff members were front-and-center in the frame, as they often are.  And as I wondered aloud whether one particular country might once have been part of the British Empire, your Air Vice Marshal Graham Stacey responded by observing in his best deadpan manner, "Sir, most countries in the CENTCOM region were part of the Empire at one time."   

Indeed, Britain has a long history of engagement in many of the countries in the Central Command Area of Responsibility, and we Americans deeply appreciate the advice and expertise our British colleagues provide. 

For a U.S. military that only recently began extensive operations in South Asia, for example, it's instructive to recall that it was more than 200 years ago that the eventual Duke of Wellington was knighted for his successful campaigns in that region, and that British officers have seen active service there almost without interruption ever since. 

On a related note, I have no doubt that when Wellington founded RUSI nearly two centuries ago, he had in mind an institution that would foster the kind of thinking and expertise required to deal with the complex, challenging environments that he had faced in South Asia.   And I think he'd be pleased to see that RUSI continues to be among the world's foremost venues for research and discussion on defense and security issues.  Indeed, it was no surprise to any of us in the transatlantic defense establishment when RUSI was named "Foreign Policy Think Tank of the Year" last year by Prospect magazine, an honor, Michael Clarke, of which you and your team can rightly be very proud.

I remember quite clearly my last appearance here at RUSI, back in September 2007, when Michael Clarke hosted me and my wonderful diplomatic wingman from Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker immediately after our testimony before Congress on the state of the effort in Iraq.  Our appearance here in London was more than just a stopover enroute back to Baghdad.  We believed it was, indeed, an obligation that we owed the United Kingdom.  As Commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq, with thousands of British troopers in my charge, I considered it my duty to report to your leadership and to your citizens on how the campaign was going and on what the UK's sons and daughters were doing.  I know that Ambassador Crocker felt a similar obligation to consult, as well, with the leadership of our most important diplomatic partner in Baghdad.

Two aspects of that earlier appearance here at RUSI are relevant to the subject at hand today:  first, that Ambassador Crocker and I rendered our reports side by side, both before Congress and here in London, signifying that the campaign in Iraq was truly a civil-military endeavor and that we were working hard to achieve civil-military unity of effort.  And second, our visit to London and appearance at RUSI immediately after our testimony and meetings in Washington signified that the campaign in Iraq was a Coalition endeavor and that we knew who our most trusted and important coalition partner was. 

Those two points are, indeed, very relevant in the conduct of the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan and in other endeavors as well:  such efforts require multinational coalitions employing not just military tools, but rather a full spectrum of civil-military capabilities employed in carrying out comprehensive whole-of-governments approaches

Today I'd like to explain how this concept was put into practice as we sought to achieve unity of effort in Iraq.  I'd also like to describe the irreplaceable role that British officers, troopers, and civilians played in our combined effort.  And I'll describe how many of these same concepts are being implemented in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, or AOR, as the American military acronym goes. 

The Scope and Challenges of the CENTCOM AOR

Well, let me start by taking a moment to recall for you the Central Command Area of Responsibility.

Central Command is, in fact, the smallest of the United States' six regional combatant commands, but it contains a number of the world's most complex challenges.  CENTCOM's AOR is comprised of twenty countries - from Egypt in the West to Pakistan in the East, and from Kazakhstan in the North to Yemen and the waters off Somalia to the South.  It is an area of enormous diversity, with over 530 million people from at least 22 major ethnic groups, speaking 18 major languages, and practicing four major religions.

It is an area that is rich in oil and natural gas, but limited in fresh water.  It has several countries with the highest per capita income in the world, while others rank among the world's most destitute.  In 18 of the 20 states, young people between the ages of 15 and 29 constitute over 40% of the population, and economic opportunities for many of them are insufficient.  In some states, as well, immature governance structures and uneven economic development undermine the traditional ties between the people and the state and create fertile ground for the seeds of extremism.

Of course, I don't have to explain to anyone here the common threats that emanate from the CENTCOM AOR.  9/11, 7/7, and the 2006 jets plot were masterminded by, or linked to, extremists now operating in the same zone along the Durand Line.  Elsewhere, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which blew up hotels in Amman, Jordan and may have sought to attack next month's World Cup in South Africa, is the same group that inspired the attack against the Glasgow Airport in 2007.

Nor, do I have to explain why we have a common interest in maintaining vigilance against the potential threat posed by an Iranian regime whose Iraqi proxies kidnapped and murdered British and American contractors, as well as British and American soldiers, and whose Revolutionary Guards took hostage British sailors in Iraqi waters and American hikers in the Iraqi Kurdish border region.  Nor do I need to recall the global concern over Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear technology in defiance of numerous IAEA directives or over Iran's continued funding, arming, training, and direction of extremists in Gaza, southern Lebanon, and Iraq, and to a lesser degree, the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In short, we share a vital interest in the security and stability of the countries in the CENTCOM area, and we will have to be engaged there in various forms for the foreseeable future.


Engagement in the Region

That is the reason some 225,000 U.S. military personnel and thousands of Department of Defense civilians are deployed in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, building relationships in the region, helping to increase the capabilities of partner nations' security forces to address the challenges they face, and conducting counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, counter-piracy, counter-narcotics, stability and support, and humanitarian operations - all in concert with U.S. diplomats, partner-nation military and civilian officials, and governments throughout the region. 

The most visible elements of our engagement today are, of course, the major operations CENTCOM oversees in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a theater-wide campaign against al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.  And in looking at those efforts, it is worth describing how the US-UK alliance formed the core of our operations in Iraq, and continues to form the core of the operation in Afghanistan and beyond.


Whole of Governments Approach:  Iraq as a Model

It was in Iraq that we relearned how to achieve unity of effort as part of a comprehensive whole-of-governments approach.  During my more than 19months in command of the Multinational Force-Iraq, the endeavor we shared with Ambassador Crocker and the U.S. Mission had to be a true team effort - military, civilian, coalition, and Iraqi.  And Ambassador Crocker and I wanted there to be no doubt that there was an unshakable commitment to teamwork at the top. 

To achieve this unity of effort, shortly after we made an early and immediate change to the mission for our respective elements at the outset of our time together, we launched a Joint Strategic Assessment to ensure a common understanding of the tasks at hand, to refine goals and objectives, and to determine how to bring the tools our respective agencies possessed to bear on the problem. 

We then used that assessment to refine our Joint Civil-Military Campaign Plan, which laid out the concrete steps we each had to take, and, more importantly, explained how actions in one area, such as security or reconstruction, enabled and complemented efforts in other areas, such as political reconciliation.  The media tended to emphasize troop levels and security operations, which were to be sure, the elements that produced the security foundation necessary for all other endeavors.  Nonetheless, the Political Line of Operation was our main effort, the effort to which we subordinated our other activities when there were competing initiatives.  If, for example, a military operation was assessed as likely to produce short-term gains in security but to undermine our long-term political efforts, we didn't conduct it.  This prioritization of our efforts to maximize our overall effectiveness could not have been achieved had we not planned civil and military activities together.

Once our plan was complete, we had to execute it as one.  We sought to establish a model for interagency cooperation, in which we linked arms, pursuing the same mission and objectives and jointly asking for the resources we needed.  We always did our weekly video teleconference with the President and National Security Council together.  We always met with Prime Minister Maliki together, changing chairs during the meetings, in fact, as we shifted from predominantly diplomatic to predominantly security issues.  We met with all congressional delegations and other important visitors together.  We conducted campaign assessments together.  And we created numerous civil-military fusion cells to address a variety of functional areas and to coordinate and synchronize our activities, thereby capitalizing on the collective information, skills, energy, and experience - civilian and military - that were available.

In any event, a few months into our tenure together in Baghdad, Ambassador Crocker and I were not really heading two separate organizations; rather, we were leading organizations that worked nearly as one, a joint civil-military counterinsurgency organization made up of diplomats, soldiers, intelligence professionals, development experts, and a host of others from across the U.S. government and the governments of our Coalition partners.


The UK's Invaluable Contribution in Iraq

It must be said that the US-UK alliance formed the core of the Coalition in Iraq from the very start.  Let me touch on just a few examples:

  • British military and civilian officials were full participants on the Joint Strategic Assessment Team that helped us refine the change in our strategic approach at the beginning of the surge in the spring of 2007.  Indeed, the lead writer of our Joint Campaign Plan was a brilliant British colonel.  In fact, for my entire tenure at MNF-I, our lead campaign planners were British officers.  Not coincidentally, one of them now serves at US Central Command.
  • The critical Force Strategic Engagement Cell that oversaw the political reconciliation effort and eventually helped manage the 103,000 so-called Sons of Iraq was led by a series of British two-stars with experience in Northern Ireland, after being established under the direction of the great LTG Sir Graeme Lamb, then my deputy.  In fact, I'd personally asked Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to extend Graeme even before I took command in Iraq - and they did.
  • British SAS forces were fully integrated into the Special Operations Element that conducted operations against leaders of the extremist networks throughout Iraq.  Indeed, the SAS led the way in a number of the most important counterterrorism operations of the war.
  • The UK-led Multinational Division Southeast played a central role in the decisive "Charge of the Knights" operation that liberated sections of Basra from Shia extremist militias in the spring of 2008, and that endeavor was supported by the follow-on reconstruction efforts of a superb British Provincial Reconstruction Team.
  • British experts from the UK Department for International Development led various efforts to help Iraq build capacity in various ministries and to promote economic revival in the south.
  • The vital Energy Fusion Cell that helped repair Iraq's oil industry and electricity production was headed by a series of British brigadiers with impressive engineering experience.
  • And, there are innumerable other examples I could cite, including the key contributions of thousands of British officers embedded in staffs, intelligence elements, training teams, advisory groups, and units throughout the command.  And in managing all of these, I relied on my British three-star deputy commander every day, just as the Multinational Corps-Iraq and MNSTC-I commanders relied on their British deputies, as well.

Simply put, what we achieved in Iraq could not have been done without our UK partners. 


The UK's Invaluable Role in Afghanistan and Beyond

And now that we are taking the lessons learned in Iraq and using them, with great care, to inform our campaign in Afghanistan, UK leaders and troopers are again making an extensive contribution to the effort to achieve our common goals there. 

  • UK forces are, of course, in the thick of the fight in some of the toughest places in Afghanistan, while UK officers are serving in integral leadership roles throughout ISAF and its subordinate commands.
  • As in Iraq, senior British officers are leading the ISAF organization responsible for promoting reconciliation and reintegration, which, in fact, has become an increasingly important effort in the campaign.  It's no accident that General McChrystal's top advisors on this most important line of operation are two British officers:  Major General Phil Jones - an officer with tremendous experience in Afghanistan going back to 2002, and, once again, the incomparable Sir Graeme Lamb, who was coaxed out of retirement to reprise the role he played in Iraq that I've already mentioned.
  • We have also been fortunate to have the talented Ambassador Mark Sedwill step into the recently created role of NATO Senior Civilian Representative, where he is doing superb work with General McChrystal to forge the kind of civil-military partnership that I was privileged to have with Ambassador Crocker in Iraq.
  • Just as they did in Iraq, British trainers and advisors are bringing their extensive experience to the effort to help build capable Afghan security forces under the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.
  • Once again, British special forces are bringing their world-class counterterrorism expertise to the campaign against extremist networks in parts of Afghanistan.
  • And, of course, the exceedingly capable Major General Nick Carter and Regional Command-South have been overseeing the operations in Helmand and are now well into the effort in Kandahar and beyond.  Beyond that, the UK team in RC-South is comprised of thousands of your very best officers, enlisted soldiers, and civilians such as, to name just a few, Lindy Cameron, the Director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah, and the troopers of the 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, who are making great strides in security and reconstruction in Nad e-Ali.  I met with them and others during my visit last month, and you should all be immensely proud of them.
  • In all these areas, and in many more, UK military and civilian elements are doing invaluable work.  And in every facet of the campaign, General McChrystal is able to rely on the advice and expertise of an exceptionally able British deputy, the incomparable Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker.

It's clear that, as was the case in Iraq, the scale of the British contribution in Afghanistan is such that the coalition cannot succeed without you.

Of course, our common efforts go well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.  Throughout the CENTCOM AOR, U.S. and UK forces and civilians are partnering in other important efforts as well, including in the combined maritime task forces operating in the Gulf and against pirates in the waters off of Somalia.  And, of course, our forces and other government agencies are also sharing critical information and intelligence as we work together in the effort to counter extremists in the region and around the world.  


Institutionalising the Alliance

It's clear, then, that we are seeing the many good aspects of alliance activities put into practice in coalition operations throughout the CENTCOM AOR.  The task before us now is to continue to institutionalize the partnerships, ideas, integration, and interoperability that our operating forces have achieved in recent years.  With our land forces having fought shoulder-to-shoulder for more than five years in Iraq and for more than eight years in Afghanistan, we now have a generation of exceedingly talented, combat-experienced officers and enlisted service members for whom coalition operations are the norm.  We need to tap into their expertise, to capture the lessons that they have learned, and to formally incorporate them into our doctrine, plans, organizations, and procedures.  Of relevance to that, I should note here how impressed I was by the British Army Field Manual, Countering Insurgency, that was published in October 2009.  It is absolutely superb, and I salute MG Paul Newton and his team on an exceptional product, noting that Paul was one of the talented UK two-star generals who headed the Force Strategic Engagement Cell in Baghdad during a critical period.

Beyond those tasks, just as we've learned to groom our future leaders by giving them joint and interagency assignments, we need to expand further their opportunities for combined assignments and educational exchanges.

It is one thing to deploy our people to combat zones and have them adapt to coalition operations and build effective teams, which they've shown they can do amazingly well.  But it's quite another thing to move beyond the ad hoc - to instill the coalition mindset by building partnerships and personal relationships through our training and education programs before our units deploy and then to sustain them once the deployment is over.  Indeed, that's what we've sought to do at CENTCOM HQs and in our subordinate Joint Task Force and component headquarters by seeking officers from the UK and other nations to serve in our actual staffs, not just as liaison officers.  And, frankly, one reason I'm here today is to sustain relationships that I've been privileged to build in recent years - and to strengthen a few new ones.

Moreover, that's why I encourage RUSI and other like-minded institutions to use venues like this one today to explore practical steps for expanding and deepening our ties.  These fora should, in fact, seek innovative ways to enhance our partnerships, particularly ideas for partnership building in advance of contingency operations, not just after the fact.


Conclusion:  The Importance of Alliances

Having served in NATO assignments at many ranks from Lieutenant to Lieutenant General, I am a huge believer in the importance of the Alliance.  As difficult as it may be at times to work with men and women who wear the uniforms of different countries, who come from different cultures, and who speak different languages, working together is vitally necessary - as President Obama's recently released National Security Strategy makes clear.  Indeed, as all in this room appreciate, Winston Churchill was right when he observed that, "The only thing worse than having allies is not having them."

Of course, with all alliances, there will be official and unofficial caveats, there will be occasional political discord, there will be alliance-tending requirements, and there will seldom be all the various military and civilian resources, authorities, and, now, bandwidth that a commander might dream of having. 

But, having noted the challenges, I'd observe that alliances also bring enormous benefits - as they did in Iraq and as they are doing now in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the CENTCOM AOR. 

It has, in fact, been the greatest of privileges to have soldiered alongside your troopers in many missions of enormous importance to our individual countries and the world, particularly since 2001.  As your most committed allies, we former colonials realize that Britain, like many other countries, is facing tough choices about where and how to use its precious resources.  We, in the United States, face similar challenges.  But as I've tried to describe today, we, together, have considerable mutual objectives in remaining engaged in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, where the interests we share and the common threats we face are so significant.  And we look forward to continuing jointly our pursuit of our mutual objectives.

Thank you very much.

General (Retd) David H Petraeus

Senior Vice-President

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