Petraeus Inflamed

An evangelical church in Florida has plans to commemorate 9/11 by burning copies of the Koran. In the understatement of the week, General David Petraeus, commander of troops in Afghanistan, said that burning the Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems.” Word of the event has already sparked protests in Kabul, and Petraeus pointed out that the response could get even worse: “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” Extremists would use images of the event as propaganda to “inflame public opinion and incite violence,” putting our troops in further danger. The U.S. embassy in Kabul also condemned the proposed Koran burning.

And all this comes as the new Afghan strategy is finally approaching full swing. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a news conference with President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that almost all additional U.S. forces heading to Afghanistan as part of the surge have now arrived. And with those resources, Washington can at long last “begin delivering tangible, lasting results,” though Gates anticipated heavier casualties on all sides—coalition forces and their Afghan counterparts as well as insurgents. Ending a short visit to the country on Friday, the secretary of defense was positive about the strategy’s progress. He’s especially encouraged by the confidence of the troops on the ground: “There is a lot of hard fighting to go. But the confidence of these young men and women that they can be successful gives me confidence.”

One area that needs work is the fight against corruption in Afghanistan. Gates said last week that Washington has plans in the works to help make sure U.S. aid money ends up in the right hands. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Petraeus are drawing up new guidelines for fund dispersal. But Gates was careful not to step on Karzai’s toes too much. He stressed that efforts should of course be led by Afghans, adding, “This is a sovereign country.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday before paying another visit to the UN General Assembly. She’s expected to touch on some of the themes in last year’s speech, focusing on the ways in which Washington is a world leader and not a declining power.