WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even before he takes command of U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gen. David Petraeus is reaching beyond the military sphere to encourage international support for stabilizing the region.
Petraeus, whose innovative thinking is credited with helping save Iraq from civil war, met International Monetary Fund and World Bank representatives last week in preparation for new efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.
The move, unusual for a military commander, underscores the Pentagon’s emphasis on unifying military, economic, political and diplomatic aid to help the two countries cope with militant violence and economic dislocation, officials said.
On October 31, the Army general will become head of Central Command, responsible for American military interests in 20 countries across the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
“The purpose (of the World Bank and IMF meetings) was to touch base and note the Central Command’s interest in supporting comprehensive approaches in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and others,” said a military official close to Petraeus.
His arrival at Centcom is widely expected to reinvigorate U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO efforts face grave challenges from an increasingly confident Taliban.
The United States has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 19,000 under Centcom command and 13,000 under NATO.
Petraeus will launch a 100-day assessment of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and other countries in the Centcom region once he takes over, officials said.
He has already spoken publicly of the strategic value of reconciling members of the Taliban with the Afghan government as a possible way to reduce violence in areas of Afghanistan where security has deteriorated this year.
Military officials say they are studying the country’s tribal landscape to identify leaders who might be willing to join the West against hard core insurgents.
Petraeus has also spoken out about the need for military strategy to be sustained by major financial and development support for the region from the international community.
“That is one of the steps that has to be taken by our government together with other countries in the coalition and elsewhere including some of those in the Gulf states,” Petraeus told the Heritage Foundation in Washington last week.
Officials said his recent meetings included a session with World Bank President Robert Zoellick to discuss what the bank might do for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There was no word of any outcome. The World Bank and IMF are already involved in talks about helping the countries.
Military officials are also looking at U.S. relations with Colombia as a possible model for Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying something like Washington’s Plan Colombia strategy could help the two countries against militants.
U.S. officials credit the multibillion-dollar, multiyear Plan Colombia policy with helping Bogota overcome a threat from guerrillas and paramilitaries that once dominated large parts of the country and ran much of its drug trade. The United States has funneled $5.5 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia since 2002.
Colombia “is a great overarching strategic model that I think we can look at for the way ahead,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently.
Pentagon officials have spoken favorably about a bipartisan measure in Congress that would triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years.
Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Storey