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New US Commander for Afghanistan No Stranger to Counterinsurgency


President Barack Obama has named General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to replace his top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, following a magazine interview in which McChrystal and his aides were dismissive of the U.S. administration.

A Senate panel is moving quickly to hold a confirmation hearing for General David Petraeus as the new commander for the war in Afghanistan. The Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing for the Army general next Tuesday.

Both Republicans and Democrats have said they back Petraeus for the job and Mr. Obama expressed his trust. "He has my full confidence," Mr. Obama said.

Some experts credit General Petraeus with a successful counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, where he led U.S. forces until being named chief of the U.S. Central Command in October 2008. He had been McCrystal's boss until the Afghanistan commander resigned this week.

Speaking last month about the situation in Afghanistan, Petraeus said he was well aware of the task ahead. "As was the case in Iraq, the reality is that everything in Afghanistan is hard. It is hard all the time, and it typically gets harder before it gets easier," he said.

Colleagues say Petraeus has a hands-on style, taking risks to walk among the people in conflict areas. He has said it is also important for a commander to be, in his terms "brutally honest" about how the war effort is going.

Some analysts predict the command change will stall advances in Afghanistan until Petraeus takes over. But President Obama says the policy in Afghanistan will not change. "General Petraeus understands that strategy because he helped shape it. My expectation is that he will be outstanding in implementing it," Mr. Obama said.

"No one, be they adversaries or friends or especially our troops should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government's commitment in Afghanistan," said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Petraeus' counterinsurgency task involves military action, but also relies on civilian relationships to succeed. Experts say it is crucial for the military and the U.S. ambassador to speak with one voice.

Johns Hopkins Professor Tom Keaney served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and says McChrystal never developed a bond with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. But Keaney says Petraeus cultivated a rapport with Iraqi officials, which benefitted the cause. "His relationship with the political entities was not just cordial, but he pushed them constantly to make modifications, to make changes. So a good relationship is important, but having influence over what that leader is going to do is also important," Keaney said.

Some people say Petraeus will develop the credentials of a future presidential candidate and have created a website called "Petraeus 2012." But the general denies any political ambitions.

Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon says popular U.S. generals in the past have turned to politics. "Eisenhower, obviously Ulysses Grant, there is a time-honored tradition as seeing generals as a powerful leaders that the nation rallies around," he said.

For Petraeus, to date, he was known for his success in Iraq, but now faces one he admits will not be easy.

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