General David Petraeus, the Commander of the U.S. Central Command, spoke in San Francisco Thursday about American military tactics in the Middle East, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Petraeus, who oversees the country’s security interests from the Middle East to Central Asia, spoke as part of the George P. Shultz Lecture Series at the Marines’ Memorial Theater.
Shultz, who was the Secretary of state under President Reagan from 1982 to 1989, introduced Petraeus by making light of how he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and married the daughter of the academy’s superintendent just two months after he graduated.
Petraeus joked that the courtship of his wife of 35 years was his “first clandestine operation.”
The general then turned to more serious matters by addressing the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There has been very substantial progress in Iraq, but there are innumerable challenges,” Petraeus said.
He provided a chart that showed there were about 160 attacks per day in Iraq during the most violent month of the war in June 2007, but that the number has fallen to between 10 and 15 attacks a day over the past six months because of a mix of hard and soft power in the region.
“It was not just about killing or capturing bad guys,” Petraeus said. “You have to do that certainly, but far more important is the focus on securing the people and serving them.”
Before overseeing Central Command, Petraeus was the Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, from January 2007 to September 2008.
As for the war in Afghanistan, the general said he thought “this would be the longest campaign in what was then called the Long War (on terrorism).”
Petraeus showed another chart, this one about Afghanistan, that showed that attacks in that war had gone up markedly compared to the downturn in violence in Iraq.
Petraeus said he thought the recent increase in troops into Afghanistan would mitigate some of the violence.
He also said the upcoming election in the country on Aug. 20 will be a critical event, and that troops are “working hard to ensure an election … that will be seen as legitimate by all the members of the Afghan population.”
During a question and answer session with the crowd, which was filled to capacity in the theater, Petraeus also addressed Iran, saying the country’s provocative actions and rhetoric “have caused enormous concern in this part of the world.”
A small group of protesters held a rally on Sutter Street outside the theater before the event, accusing Petraeus of being responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Petraeus acknowledged that he was concerned that during the toughest fighting, “some of our troopers might be willing to turn a blind eye to some activities,” but stressed “the importance of protecting and living the values that we have fought to preserve for generations.”
Related: Petraeus In SF, Says Afghanistan Fight Still Tough CBS5