General David Petraeus has handed over command of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan to U.S. General John Allen, and will soon take the helm at the Central Intelligence Agency. The change in command comes as the Taliban continues to carry out high-profile attacks and Afghan security forces take over security in some areas of the country.
General David Petraeus received a medal from Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday, his last day in Kabul. Mr. Karzai presented the award the same day he attended the funeral of one of his top advisors, Jan Mohammed Khan, who was shot dead at his home in the Afghan capital Sunday night by two assailants, apparently sent by the Taliban.
It was the second such assassination in less than a week: Hamid Karzai’s half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council and the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was murdered in Kandahar, also in his own home, by a bodyguard. In both cases, the gunmen who carried out the assassinations were shot and killed by security forces.
Those assassinations, coupled with last month's assault on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, were apparently an attempt by the Taliban to show it is still capable of launching attacks. During the period of General Petraeus’ command in Afghanistan, there was a "surge" of NATO forces that succeeded in marginalizing the Taliban on the battlefield, denying them control of certain areas.
During Monday's change of command ceremony, Petraeus’ successor, Lieutenant General John Allen, said he plans to keep up the pressure.
"It is my intention to maintain the momentum of this campaign, this great campaign on which we have embarked," said Allen. "I will continue to support, in every way possible, the recruiting, the training, the preparation and the equipping, and the fielding and employment of the Afghan national security forces."
The training of the Afghan military and security forces is a priority for the NATO-led mission as it begins the withdrawal of combat forces, which is due to be completed by 2014.
This week, several districts in areas where there is little Taliban activity, or where NATO gains make a transition possible, are being handed over to Afghan control.
But Afghan member of parliament Fawzia Koofi says she hopes the drawdown will continue based on success on the ground, not on internal pressure in NATO countries.
"Right now, I think an awful lot of the international community when they talk about exit strategy - they are basically being influenced by their own domestic politics, including the financial crisis, including the elections that are coming, especially in the United States," said Koofi.
"There [are] no benchmarks. There [are] no measures to monitor to what is going to happen from now until 2014. Our fear is that with the withdrawal, early withdrawal, without finishing this war properly and bringing a sustainable peace, the situation will grow worse," Kofi added.
Afghan authorities say that they are in talks with certain elements of the Taliban to bring a political resolution to the 10-year-old war. U.S. officials are encouraging the process but insist that it must be Afghan-led. That approach is similar to the one General Petraeus took in Iraq, where he is credited with significantly reducing the levels of violence.