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Petraeus takes over as CIA chief

David Petraeus, the former general who gained prominence charting US strategy in the Afghan and Iraq wars, has been sworn in as director of the CIA.

Retired last week after 37 years in the Army, Mr Petraeus was sworn in as the 20th director of the so-called silent service in a private ceremony.

Silent is what some in the White House want the well-connected former four-star general to remain, said two current and one former US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive discussions at the National Security Council.

Admirers and detractors alike are watching to see whether Mr Petraeus will use his influence with the media and Capitol Hill to pursue policies discordant to the White House officials who disagreed with him over the course of the Afghan war.

At a time when top figures close to President Barack Obama were arguing for a troop drawdown, Mr Petraeus helped persuade Mr Obama to increase troops in Afghanistan in a repeat of his counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, a strategy now credited with producing tangible if fragile progress. That ran counter to the strategy favoured by vice president Joe Biden, among others, to leave the job to a much smaller force of trainers and special operations troops to hunt terrorists.

There is some unease among intelligence officials as Mr Petraeus assumes leadership of an organisation that has produced a series of grim assessments of conditions in Afghanistan, where the general oversaw the war directly or indirectly for more than four years. Mr Petraeus has acknowledged differences with CIA analysts in the past, saying that he thought the analysts were forced to rely on data at least six weeks old; He thought that skewed their analyses, whereas his battlefield data had been more current.

The most recent CIA assessment of the Afghan war could be used either to support or to reject Mr Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy, which advocated a surge of troops to protect the Afghans and buy time to build a local force to do the same. The CIA analysis predicted a grim, continued stalemate in fighting with the Taliban, according to one current and one former US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.

The recent announcement to draw down troops has invigorated the Taliban, both officials say. Intelligence intercepts between Taliban commanders show they plan to bide their time until more US troops leave over the coming year, and then step up attacks, the current official said.

Policymakers could interpret that as damning Mr Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy of the past two years. Or they could argue that it shows the drawdown is coming too soon - before the Taliban were weakened enough to be forced to cut deals with the Afghan government or before local forces were strong enough to present a credible deterrent.

The analysts have expressed worry that they may be forced to match their new boss' point of view, the current official said.


From Belfast Telegraph