Top US general Petraeus warns 'formidable' Taliban of long campaign
Top US general David Petraeus has described the Taliban resistance to a major offensive in southern Afghanistan as "formidable" but "a bit disjointed" and warned the insurgents that this was just "the initial operation" of the campaign.
AFP - Top US general David Petraeus described Sunday the Taliban resistance to a major offensive in southern Afghanistan as "a bit disjointed" and warned the insurgents that this was just the start.
The first main offensive since President Barack Obama escalated the conflict in December entered its second week with gunfights and land mines bogging down attempts to secure the Nad Ali and Marjah areas of Helmand province.
But Petraeus said that, while "formidable," the Taliban resistance had so far been "a bit disjointed," as he framed the offensive as only the initial burst of Obama's revised strategy for combating the Afghan insurgents.
"The way the operation was conducted leaped over some of them (the Taliban). But there is tough fighting going on without question," Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told NBC television's "Meet the Press" program.
He said Obama and General Stanley McChrystal, who leads the 121,000 US and NATO forces fighting the militants, had laid out a comprehensive strategy that was only beginning to get into gear.
"This is just the initial operation of what will be a 12 to 18-month campaign as General McChrystal and his team mapped it out," Petraeus said.
"We spent the last year getting the inputs right in Afghanistan, getting the structure and organizations necessary for a comprehensive civil military campaign, putting the best leaders we can find in charge of those."
Petraeus, who masterminded a similar surge strategy in Iraq that was widely credited with helping to turn that conflict around, said it was only natural that such an effort would meet strong resistance.
"When we go on the offensive, when we take away sanctuaries and safe havens from the Taliban and other extremist elements that we and our Afghan and coalition partners are fighting in that country, they're going to fight back."
So far, 12 soldiers with NATO's International Security Assistance Force have been killed in the assault, billed as the biggest offensive against the insurgents since a 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban government.
Three more NATO soldiers were reported dead Sunday in eastern and southern Afghanistan in incidents unrelated to Mushtarak, ISAF said.
Afghan authorities said six militants were killed on Saturday in Nad Ali, taking the reported Taliban death toll in Operation Mushtarak over 50.
Fifteen civilians have been killed in the assault, government officials say, while some rights groups put the toll at 21.
Republican congressman Mark Kirk, who just visited Afghanistan, told Fox Television on Sunday that Operation Mushtarak was "half afghan, half NATO" and aimed at winning the local population away from the Taliban.
"We'll see a whole new Afghan police force in this area, government officials, assistance programs," said the US Navy reservist who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The point here is reconvince the population we're with you. We don't want you to be to oppressed by the Taliban. We went your kids to go to school and most importantly we want economic activity to return to the area," Kirk said.
The assault on the militant stronghold is the first major test of Obama's strategy to crush an eight-year insurgency launched after the Taliban were ousted from power.
Obama has ordered more than 50,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan since taking office in January 2009, with the final reinforcements due by August to bring to 150,000 the total number of US and NATO-led troops in the country.