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Petraeus on Afghanistan: 'We are in this to win'

  • Sean Maroney

U.S. General David Petraeus has formally assumed command of the 140,000-member NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

The new top military leader in Afghanistan, U.S. General David Petraeus, assumes command following the deadliest month for international forces in the country since the Afghan war began nearly nine years ago.

More than 100 NATO troops died in June, as NATO and Afghan forces bore down on Taliban strongholds in the south.

But despite the grim statistics, General Petraeus told a crowd of several-hundred NATO and Afghan officials at NATO headquarters in Kabul that coalition forces must rise to the challenge.

"We are engaged in a tough fight," Petraeus said. "After years of war, we have arrived at a critical moment. We are in this to win."

On Sunday July 4, which also marks America's Independence Day, General Petraeus received two flags - one for the United States and the other for NATO - to mark his formal assumption of command in Afghanistan.

He is under tremendous pressure to help bring security to the country in the face of a growing Taliban insurgency, while at the same time, planning an exit strategy to start withdrawing U.S. forces by the middle of next year.

Petraeus also assumes command following a recent controversy surrounding his predecessor, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who resigned late last month after he and his aides made disparaging comments to a U.S. magazine about senior members of the Obama administration.

General Petraeus said the change in leadership does not signal a shift in making the protection of the Afghan people the primary focus for NATO.

But he did suggest he would review the rules of engagement that currently govern international forces in Afghanistan.

"I will, as any new commander should, together with ISAF, Afghan and diplomatic partners, examine our civil-military effort to determine where refinements might be needed," Petraeus said.

Troops have complained that McChrystal exercised too much caution to prevent civilian casualties by curbing the use of airpower and heavy weapons in some instances, which they said benefited the Taliban and endangered coalition forces.

Speaking on behalf of NATO headquarters, Allied Joint Force Command leader German General Egon Ramms welcomed Petraeus' experience and leadership.

"There was not the slightest concern about mission command in relation to the unexpected developments of the past 10 days," Ramms said.

Analysts credit General Petraeus for turning around the war effort in Iraq, as well as pioneering the U.S. military's counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. The strategy relies mainly on a two-pronged approach: engaging the Taliban militarily in their strongholds, while relying on the Afghan government to simultaneously improve local governance and development.

Regional experts say that high levels of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration, coupled with the booming drug trade, are hurting efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

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