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Mon Dec 22 04:45:41 SAST 2014

Tragic fall for US Army's iron man

©The Daily Telegraph, London and Reuters | 11 November, 2012 00:06
PD*59333497
FLIGHT OF FANCY: David Petraeus and the woman with whom he had an affair, his biographer Paula Broadwell

GENERAL David Petraeus's abrupt resignation in the wake of an affair, and an ensuing FBI investigation, brings a tawdry end to the career of the US's most famous scholar-soldier.

Just two days after his 60th birthday, Petraeus stepped down from the spy agency where he had held the top office since September 6 2011.

"After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organisation such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation," Petraeus told the shadow warriors he commanded at the CIA.

It was a stunning downfall for a revered military man seen as one of the top leaders of his generation and once considered a potential contender for the White House.

Petraeus was credited with pulling Iraq from the brink of all-out civil war and for battlefield successes in Afghanistan after overseeing a surge of 30000 troops ordered by President Barack Obama in late 2009. He became known for counter-insurgency strategies seen as gaining ground against the Taliban.

As well as his tremendous physical capacity - he has survived cancer, a bullet wound to the chest and a botched parachute jump but can still run 3km in 10 minutes - Petraeus was regarded as one of the finest minds the army possessed.

His career began at West Point, the US Military's elite training school, where he graduated with distinction, even marrying Holly Knowlton, the daughter of the academy's superintendent. As his military career progressed he gained a PhD from Princeton University.

Rising quickly through the ranks, Petraeus became a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division, leading one of the US's toughest units as it drove into Baghdad in 2003.

He was later tasked with training Iraq's new security forces and then promoted to be in charge of all international forces there.

He rewrote the rule book on counterinsurgency and was credited with almost single-handedly turning the tide of war as the US struggled to contain the Sunni insurgency that raged in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Ironically, he was seen as the safe pair of hands to replace General Stanley McChrystal as the leader of international forces in Afghanistan in 2010 after the latter was forced to resign in disgrace following a Rolling Stone article where his aides brazenly mocked Vice-President Joe Biden and other senior US figures.

A year later, Obama again called on the US's foremost battle commander, asking him to exchange his uniform for the dark suit of the CIA director.

His tenure at CIA headquarters was not entirely smooth. The media speculated constantly that he might step down in order to run for president as a Republican and recently his agency has come under fire for its role in the September 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

When he was nominated to lead the CIA there were some concerns in intelligence circles that the high-profile four-star army general might not be able to lead from the shadows as appropriate for a spy chief.

But once he took over, Petraeus kept a decidedly low public profile.

But nothing could have prepared Obama for the news that the country's foremost commander and military iron man had at last been defeated - by his own weakness.

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