US General David Petraeus, nominated to lead the war in Afghanistan, warned senators Tuesday that fighting against Taliban insurgents could intensify in the months to come.
AFP - General David Petraeus, named as the new commander in Afghanistan, tried to reassure an anxious Congress on Tuesday that NATO-led troops are making headway in Afghanistan, amid fraying public support for the war.
Petraeus, the country's most revered military officer, told senators the coalition force "has achieved progress in several locations" this year but warned of a "tough fight" ahead against Taliban insurgents, with violence expected to rise.
With lawmakers concerned over strained relations between military and civilian leaders, Petraeus vowed to work closely with his civilian counterparts and also promised to review disputed rules restricting troops' use of firepower.
As public backing for the nearly-nine-old war declines, President Barack Obama nominated Petraeus to take the helm in Kabul after the dramatic sacking of General Stanley McChrystal as commander last week.
McChrystal was forced to step down over a bombshell magazine article that quoted him and his staff disparaging their civilian counterparts in the administration, including Obama himself, the US envoy to the region and the US ambassador.
Petraeus, speaking at a senate hearing on his nomination, said he would seek "to forge unity of effort" with diplomats and White House officials.
He recounted how during his time in Iraq, he worked "very closely" with the then-US ambassador in Baghdad and that he would do the same with the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, as well as NATO and UN envoys.
McChrystal and Eikenberry had widely-publicized tense relations and sharply disagreed last year over plans for a major troop "surge" in Afghanistan. Obama approved the troop buildup over the ambassador's objections, which were leaked to the media.
Petraeus said there had been "security gains" over the past year in Afghanistan, particularly in southern Helmand province, and credited McChrystal for reshaping the campaign to focus on key towns and villages.
But he warned that violence would likely rise as Islamist insurgents seek to test NATO's will, and that would it take "a number of years" before Afghan security forces would be ready to take over.
"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," he said.
"As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."
The four-star general, credited with turning around the war in Iraq, pledged to review how new rules on the use of force are carried out, saying he was aware of complaints by troops that their hands were sometimes tied in combat.
"When our troopers and our Afghan partners are in a tough spot, it is a moral imperative that we use everything we have to make sure that they get out of it," the general said.
But he said the rules are "fundamentally sound" and that he agreed with the former commander that it was crucial to prevent civilian deaths in military operations.
Lawmakers promised swift confirmation of Petraeus's nomination but Republicans renewed their criticism of a July 2011 deadline set by Obama to start a gradual drawdown of US troops.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham blasted the administration over the mid-2011 target date, saying it jeopardized the mission and that the White House needed to clarify "what the hell we're going to do" in Afghanistan.
Obama's fellow Democrats meanwhile are worried about an open-ended war and are pushing for a strict commitment to the 2011 deadline.
Petraeus is set to take over the NATO-led force as the death toll of foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban came to 100 for the month of June alone, according to an AFP tally.
An announcement by the Pentagon on the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320.
In 2009, the toll was 520.
Date created : 2010-06-29