US General: It’s hard and hard all the time

For Jacob Petersen, a graduate student majoring in international studies at USF, hearing David Petraeus, U.S. General and commander of U.S. Central Command, speak was an experience that hit close to home.

“It’s always good to see the people making the decisions for you,” Petersen said. “To see them in the flesh.”

An exchange student from Denmark, Petersen said his country is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition in Afghanistan.

“We want the Afghan army and state to also do the work,” Petersen said. “We want (the U.S.’s) objective to be, as Petraeus said, ‘aid and assist.'”

Petraeus pushed the “aid and assist” mentality in his keynote address on Friday that concluded a three-day symposium, which covered topics of security and public health in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

To an audience of several hundred students and faculty members in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater, Petraeus discussed the progress the U.S. is making in the region, saying that both sides need to be willing and able to make a stable country with more Afghani government control and less extremist rule.

“It is not all about the military doing this or all about the civilians doing that. It all has to be together,” Petraeus said. “We must reduce civilian casualties if we are to succeed.”

Petraeus recommended the military exercise patience with its strategic effort by “thinking long and hard before they drop a bomb on a house…”

But he also said finding answers to issues in Middle-Eastern countries are not easy to come by, adding, “The reality is that it’s hard – and hard all the time.”

After questions from the audience about U.S. involvement with countries like Iraq and Iran, Petraeus said the military often isn’t the only solution or problem.

“The most important surge in Iraq wasn’t forces, it was ideas,” Petraeus said. “Without security, nothing is possible. That is why it is imperative to establish security.”

Petraeus said that by June 2011, troops would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, echoing a statement made by President Barack Obama in December that he would withdraw troops within 18 months.

During his address, Petraeus did not go in depth about plans to try and bring troops home, instead discussing the need for government assistance and cooperation to help achieve peace between the nations.

“Once security is established, it must be complemented with the action of the political arena,” he said.

Petraeus ended the event with a commemoration of those who served in the U.S military.

“It’s always good to end with remembering those who put the big ideas on paper into reality on the ground,” he said.

Petersen said even the smallest number of deaths at war has a great impact in a nation like Denmark.

“We’ve lost about 18 soldiers in Denmark, and our force is only a couple thousand, so that’s a lot of people for a small nation,” Petersen said.

Mohsen Milani, chair of USF’s Department of Government and International Affairs, moderated the address.

“Specifically, I wanted Petraeus to be able to give us a bigger picture … a strategic picture of what is taking place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq,” Milani said.

Milani and Dr. Tom Mason, epidemiologist for the College of Public Health, organized the event that featured 22 experts and academics.

“Only through a heightened awareness and commitment to the improvement of the human condition will we ever be able to resolve these particular issues,” Mason said.