Petraeus stresses that July 2011 drawdown is 'conditions-based'

Gen. David Petraeus on Sunday stressed the July 2011 Afghanistan withdrawal date is a target to spur progress and not necessarily a pullout event.

The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, who took the reins in the wake of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, admitted in a "Meet the Press" interview that being pulled from U.S. Central Command to oversee the operation required some thought.

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"To be candid, I thought I'd done my last one of this type," said Petraeus, who led the successful surge in the Iraq war.

But the general continually stressed that July 2011, a date much debated on Capitol Hill, didn't signal the end to U.S. efforts. "I didn't come out here to carry out a graceful exit," he said, adding that his goal is "achieving objectives."

When asked by host David Gregory, in Afghanistan to interview Petraeus, if the war is winnable, Petraeus said, "We're making progress."

The general said it would be "premature" to assess at this point what can be transitioned in July. "It's incumbent on us to show greater progress, to show sustained progress," he said.

Petraeus said he did not find the 2011 target date "stifling" and said both President Obama and Vice President Biden had made clear that a withdrawal would be "conditions-based."

"I'm not bowed over by the knowledge that July 2011 is out there," he said, adding that the transition deadline really denoted a "message of increased urgency" in the face of "understandable concern and in some cases frustration" over the length of the conflict.

"One manifestation is we have this date," Petraeus said.

The general, who said he regularly meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and still views him as a "real partner" for the U.S. despite corruption concerns, stressed that success in Afghanistan might not look like a Western-style democracy but would need to integrate traditional governing structures.

"It's not about us winning hearts and minds, it's about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds," Petraeus said.

"This isn't to say that there's any kind of objective of turning Afghanistan into Switzerland in three to five years or less," he said. "Afghan good enough is good enough."

Failure, Petraeus said, would not only provide a platform for extremism to flourish in the region but would launch a bloody, "frightening" civil war in which regional neighbors would take sides.

An international commitment to Afghanistan would have to be "enduring to some degree," he said, though could be drawn down over time.

"The final chapter for Iraq is still to be written," he said.