News24

Petraeus: Progress in Afghan war

2010-06-29 21:24

Washington - US General David Petraeus, named as the new commander in Afghanistan, touted signs of "progress" in the Afghan war but warned of a "tough fight" ahead against Taliban insurgents.

The Nato led force "has achieved progress in several locations" this year, including in the southern Helmand province, Petraeus told senators at a hearing on his nomination as the next commander.

The general's insistence that the campaign was making headway came amid fraying public support for the war and growing impatience in Congress about the nearly nine-year-old mission.

President Barack Obama called on Petraeus to take the helm in Kabul after sacking General Stanley McChrystal as commander last week.

McChrystal was forced to step down over a bombshell magazine article that quoted him and his staff disparaging their civilian counterparts in the administration, including Obama himself, the US envoy to the region and the US ambassador.

Seeking to reassure lawmakers about festering tensions between military and civilian leaders, Petraeus vowed to forge close cooperation with his civilian counterparts in the administration.

"We are all firmly united in seeking to forge unity of effort," Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He recounted how during his time in Iraq, he worked "very closely" with the then-US ambassador in Baghdad and that he would do the same with the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, as well as Nato and UN envoys.

Tense relationship

McChrystal and Eikenberry had a tense relationship and had sharply disagreed last year over plans for a major troop "surge" in Afghanistan, which Obama approved over the ambassador's objections, which were leaked to the media.

Petraeus said there had been "security gains" over the past year in Afghanistan and credited McChrystal for reshaping the campaign.

But he warned that violence would likely rise as Islamist insurgents seek to test Nato's will and push back against US-led offensives.

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," he said.

"As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."

The general's comments came as the death toll of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban came to 100 for the month of June alone, according to an AFP tally.

An announcement by the Pentagon on the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320.

The toll for 2009 was 520.

AFP's figures are based on a tally kept by the independent icasualties.org website.