LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, International Security Assistance Force commander, met with leaders of the 34th Infantry “Red Bulls” Division from the Iowa National Guard Feb. 7 in Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan, in a visit which focused on maintaining security in the Laghman Province and increasing economic development in the region.
“I want to assure you that I am not only a ‘professor of war’ as some journalists in the United States labeled me, I am also a former professor of economics,” Petraeus told a group of leaders from the Red Bulls, as well as other military and local government officials during a lunch hosted by Laghman Province Gov. Mohammed Iqbal Azizi in Mehtar Lam.
“I know that we must not only achieve security – we must then build on that foundation with economic development and improvements in basic services and all the other activities that are necessary for the people to support this government,” Patraeus said.
The 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment of the Red Bulls is the battle space owner of Laghman Province and works closely with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National and Uniform Police to provide security in the province.
Petraeus began his visit with a meeting between Red Bulls military leaders, as well as leaders of the Laghman Province Provincial Reconstruction Team, the Kansas Agribusiness Development Team and other units from nearby Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam who work with the local population.
Petraeus was briefed on operations the units are conducting with their Afghan counterparts in key terrain areas and throughout the province.
“At the end of the day ... you have to go after the enemy wherever the enemy is – he doesn’t care whether it’s key terrain or non-key terrain,” Petraeus said. “If they can disrupt whatever it is you’re doing, that’s a problem. We cannot let them have safe-havens anywhere we can prevent it.”
After the morning meeting, Petraeus visited with Azizi at his compound. The governor expressed his happiness and gratitude for the coalition’s efforts in the province.
“The team working with me is exceeding my expectations,” Azizi said. “They are very precise.”
Petraeus told the governor the coalition is working to minimize damage to the infrastructure of the province as military operations continue. He said one of the ways he plans to do this is by planting more trees.
“We have destroyed trees as part of military operations, that’s something that’s inescapable,” Petraeus said. “But we will plant many, many more. I am going to have an order that says if you cut one tree, you plant two more somewhere else.”
Petraeus said the highlight of his visit to the province was his visit to the Mastoori Girls School in Mehtar Lam, where Azizi took him after their meeting at the governor’s compound. There he met some of the more than 2,500 girls who attend the school, as well as one of their teachers.
“The most enjoyable moment of the day for me was seeing the young girls at the school and hearing the excitement in their voices about the education they’re now receiving -- something that was impossible in the days of the Taliban,” Petraeus said.