Petraeus may tell Obama to fight on
Washington - Afghan war commander General David Petraeus reserved the right on Sunday to tell President Barack Obama it is too early to start withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.
Asked in an interview with NBC'S Meet the Press whether he could make an assessment in July next year that it is not the right time to start the planned limited pull-out, Petraeus said: "Certainly, yeah."
"The president and I sat down in the Oval Office and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice," he said.
Petraeus's comments come as US public support for the war and Obama's handling of it are at an all-time low with the death toll for US troops hitting a record high in July of 66.
US reinforcements are trying to drive back Taliban insurgents in the south with the last units of a 30 000-strong surge of troops due to swell American numbers to 100 000 in the coming weeks.
Obama has been criticised for saying some US troops will come home in mid-2011, with opponents accusing him of letting the Taliban insurgents think America is not in the fight for the long-term and choosing to wait it out.
Petraeus pointed out that Obama had also deployed far more troops to Afghanistan and said the real point of giving the date was to step up pressure for progress in the US and Afghan effort.Increased urgency
"Let me point out one other item about July 2011 if I could, because what I had often noted was that in the speech the president made at West Point there were two messages," he said.
"One was a message of substantial additional commitment, an additional 30 000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorisation of a 100 000 more of them and so forth, but also a message of increased urgency and that's what July 2011 really connotes."
Afghanistan, with the help of its Western backers, is trying to build up its army and police so that they can take responsibility for security from US-led Nato forces by 2014.
The Taliban, toppled in a 2001 US-led invasion, still control large swathes of the south and have put up stiff resistance to a surge of foreign troops as part of a counter-insurgency strategy.
Petraeus took over command of more than 140 000 coalition troops in Afghanistan last month from US General Stanley McChrystal, who was sacked for showing disdain for US administration officials in a magazine interview.
Nonetheless, Petraeus still reserved the right to tell Obama that conditions on the ground had changed and that pull-out plans might be premature.
"Certainly, I am aware of the context within which I offer that advice," Petraeus said. "But that just informs the advice; it doesn't drive it. The situation on the ground drives it."
"I think our job is again to show those in Washington that there is progress being made," Petraeus said.
"To do that, we've got to build on the progress that has been established so far, because there is certainly nothing like irreversible momentum."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently pledged that the Afghan army and police would be able to take responsibility for the country's security by the end of 2014.