The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia says last week was the most violent in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. During an appearance in Washington on Thursday, General David Petraeus said he expects the increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan to improve the security situation, but a broader civilian effort will be needed to make the gains permanent.
General Petraeus did not provide specific figures, but he told the Center for a New American Security's annual conference that while violent incidents in Iraq have gone down in recent months, Afghanistan has experienced the opposite trend.
"The security situation has deteriorated in specific areas, in particular in the east and the south - the areas of the so-called Pashtun insurgency. And that has to be reversed," he said.
Petraeus called for a sustained increase in international civilian assistance for Afghanistan because he said he expects security gains as more U.S. forces flow into the country - more than doubling their presence within the next couple of months.
"We think we can make progress in the security arena," he said. "The challenge will be to exploit that progress to make the most of that space to enable the establishment of governance that is seen to serve the people, that is not predatory, that is not guilty of corruption and that provides better basic services, more, if you will, local commercial opportunities and better access to health care, education and all the rest."
Petraeus was the U.S. commander in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, and is widely credited with turning around the security situation there with the help of more U.S. troops and a broad counterinsurgency strategy that incorporated military and civilian efforts. He now supervises U.S. military forces throughout the region and is in the process of applying many of the same concepts to Afghanistan.
He told the audience at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based research institution, that Pakistan has also begun to adopt the same approach in its fight against the Taliban and related groups in its north and west.
"The concepts are solid and the execution is on track," said Petraeus. "We are not providing direct assistance to combat. We are providing a variety of security assistance."
General Petraeus said the United States has just provided several helicopters to Pakistan, after a fast-track process that compressed the approval and delivery time to just a few weeks. He called it the fastest ever such delivery.
The general spoke just hours after the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan left Washington to take up his post. General Stanley McChrystal departed shortly after his appointment and promotion to four-star general were confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He will consult with European allies on his way to Afghanistan because he will also command NATO forces in the country. McChrystal's job will be to try to do in Afghanistan what Petraeus did in Iraq.