The campaign benefited as well when Sunni tribesmen, including some former insurgents who’d attacked American forces, turned on the foreign al Qaida elements in their midst and joined U.S.-backed militias known collectively as the Sons of Iraq.
Even in that project, Petraeus enjoyed some exaggerated credit. Many of the militiamen said at the time that they’d tried for months to reach out to the Americans for such an alliance but had been rejected. An earlier partnership, they said, could’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. and Iraqi lives.
When the liberal group MoveOn.org in 2007 ran a full-page ad challenging the general’s claims of the surge’s success – especially riling his acolytes with a “General Betray Us” play on his name – the full wrath of the Petraeus machine was unleashed. Republicans, and many Democrats, too, furiously condemned the ad in petitions and hyperbolic calls for apologies and an end to “this McCarthyite attack.”
In 2010, as commander of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, Petraeus replicated the strategy with what critics said was little attention to the vastly different fight in Afghanistan. He developed a plan to surge 33,000 American forces into the Taliban’s southern heartland of Kandahar and Helmand provinces. While the forces hurt the insurgency, they failed to break its back, and serious violence persists. Indeed, there were 12,000 insurgent attacks in Afghanistan between May and August this year; in the same period in 2009, before the surge, there were 8,000.
One of the main criticisms is that Petraeus quickly pivoted from a counterinsurgency strategy to a counterterrorism strategy, alarming longtime Afghanistan observers who watched U.S. forces repeat old mistakes of turning a blind eye to corrupt allies in hopes of gaining ground against the extremists.
Instead of the holistic approach espoused in his own doctrine, according to people who worked with him at the time, Petraeus was fixated on violence levels, which he understood were more visible to the White House and the American public.
“I felt that he did his Petraeus thing of defining the narrative and he did it pretty deliberately from the get-go,” said the Western official who had served at Petraeus’ headquarters in Afghanistan. “The thinking seemed to be, ‘We’re going to be judged by the level of violence, so let’s focus on what we can do to get the numbers down.’”
Once again, the former official said, few people challenged Petraeus on an approach that appeared to repudiate his own doctrine. Nor did they speak up, the official said, when Broadwell appeared on the scene, hovering suspiciously close to the general and often dressed in attire that was out of place in ultraconservative Afghanistan.
“You saw from 50 miles away what kind of person this was,” the official said. “But she’s gotten into the chink in his armor, his insatiable need for people to praise him.”