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Petraeus Appointment Greeted with Praise, Uncertainty in Afghanistan

General David Petraeus (file photo)
General David Petraeus (file photo)
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David Dyar

U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that he plans to change the top commander in Afghanistan from General Stanley McChrystal to General David Petraeus comes during NATO's deadliest month in the war torn country.

This June in Afghanistan has seen not only the highest number of casualties for international forces, but also a more unlikely casualty - the resignation of the top NATO commander for the country, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal.

As President Barack Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation, the president announced he planned to install U.S. General David Petraeus as the new commander.

Analysts expect lawmakers in Washington to approve General Petraeus with little fuss, considering the commander is credited with turning around the military strategy in Iraq several years ago.

But on the streets of Kabul, ordinary Afghans say they are not sure what the future holds.

Samiullah says no one knows anything about Petraeus or his plans, but all Afghan people are aware that McChrystal was serving them well.  He says he hopes Petraeus also will do a good job.

Praise for McChrystal is a common theme in Kabul.

Shafiqullah says that in the first nine years of the war, there were lots of civilian casualties.  But after McChrystal's arrival a year ago, he says the killing of civilians decreased.

Pamir says he thinks McChrystal was good because he repaired relations with civilians.  He says he does not think McChrystal treated the Afghan people badly.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also was an outspoken supporter of General McChrystal.

Waheed Omar is a spokesman for Mr. Karzai.  He shared the president's feelings with reporters. "McChrystal's departure is sad, it's unfortunate, but General David Petraeus' arrival is good news as well," he said.

Omar says President Karzai thinks General Petreaus is the best possible choice to replace McChrystal, considering his seniority and his knowledge of the region. "In this decision of President Obama, it is an expression of commitment to Afghanistan.  General Petraeus knows the region, General Petraeus knows Afghanistan, he has been overseeing what's happening in Afghanistan and he has had a role in devising this strategy for Afghanistan, so he is no stranger to Afghanistan," he said.

But some regional experts still think Petraeus has a tall order to fill.

Analysts have credited McChrystal for reinvigorating the NATO mission in the country, by focusing it on the Afghan people and seeking to limit civilian casualties.

Mohammad Akram Khapalwak is the former governor of Paktika province.  He said he believes McChrystal did a good job with this refocused strategy.

As one example, he points out that McChrystal traveled many times with President Karzai to southern Afghanistan to speak with local elders and politicians, even as NATO and Afghan forces intensify the fight against the Taliban there. "That means that both the U.S. government and Afghan government [are] working to bring operation in a positive role - to involve the community in these operations," he said.

He says he believes changing from General McChrystal has more drawbacks than benefits. "[If you] change the commander who have good relations with the Afghan government and is well-able to bring coordination with the government and with civil peoples, [it] will bring negative aspect," he said.

Khapalwak says a new military commander in Afghanistan needs several months to get acquainted with the country and its people, precious time that is a luxury at the moment.

He says the summer season is normally Afghanistan's most violent and that this year it is combined with an impending offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar province, as well as campaigning for September's parliamentary elections.

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