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General Petraeus says US troop exit date 'not set in stone'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-16

General David Petraeus, the head of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, has said he would not be bound by a 2011 target date set by President Barack Obama to begin the withdrawal of US troops in the war-torn country.

AFP - General David Petraeus has refused to be bound by a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, reserving the right to seek a delay if conditions are not right.

The Afghan war commander said President Barack Obama's date for the start of a limited US withdrawal was not set in stone and should be viewed more as an attempt to increase the urgency of the counter-insurgency effort.
  
"I think the president has been quite clear in explaining that it's a process, not an event, and that it's conditions-based," Petraeus told NBC television's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
  
In a series of major media interviews, his first since assuming command of more than 140,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan last month, the general also said he would be prepared to negotiate with Taliban with "blood on their hands."
  
Petraeus, who helped turn around the Iraq war for Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush -- partly by wheeling and dealing with warring factions -- said a new reconciliation and reintegration strategy aimed at persuading Afghan insurgents to change sides was "fairly imminent."
  
There is "every possibility, I think, that there can be low- and mid-level reintegration and indeed some fracturing of the senior leadership that could be really defined as reconciliation."
  
In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Petraeus said 365 insurgent leaders and 2,400 rank-and-file fighters have been killed or captured over the past three months.
  
The operations have led "some leaders of some elements" of the insurgency to begin reconciliation discussions with the Afghan government, he told the Post, characterizing the interactions as "meaningful."
  
The four-star general told "Meet the Press" he has a good working relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, although he admitted that "in some cases we see things a little bit differently."
  
"I have literally talked to the president on average about once a day. We have had numerous conversations and a couple of those have been at his residence... walking in his garden out behind his house and so forth."
  
Petraeus formally took over command of the Afghan war in July after Obama dismissed General Stanley McChrystal after he and his staff made disparaging comments about senior US administration figures.
  
His interviews with The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC television came as American public support for the war and Obama's handling of it are at an all-time low with the death toll for US troops hitting a record high in July of 66.
  
They also came hours before the icasualties.org website announced that the total number of foreign troops killed since the start of the Afghan war in 2001 had topped 2,002, including 1,226 Americans and 331 from Britain.
  
US reinforcements are trying to drive back Taliban insurgents in the south with the last units of a 30,000-strong surge of troops due to swell American numbers to 100,000 in the coming weeks.
  
Obama has been strongly criticized for saying US troops will start coming home in mid-2011. Opponents say it sends out the message America is not in the fight for the long-term and adds to the Taliban's resolve to wait it out.
  
Petraeus disputed that interpretation and pointed out that when Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan at West Point military academy in December 2009, he also greatly boosted America's military commitment.
  
"One was a message of substantial additional commitment, an additional 30,000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorization of a 100,000 more of them and so forth, but also a message of increased urgency and that's what July 2011 really connotes."
  
Grilled on the drawdown start date, he was asked by the interviewer: "Could you reach that point and say 'I know that the process is supposed to begin but my assessment as the commander here is that it cannot begin now?'"
  
Petraeus replied: "Certainly, yeah. Again, the president and I sat down in the Oval Office and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice."
  
The general responded angrily to the release by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks of 76,000 military documents related to the Afghan conflict, saying it was "reprehensible" for such sensitive information to be leaked.
  
The general described the whole affair as "beyond unfortunate," but said he had no idea what was in the second batch of some 15,000 secret documents that WikiLeaks has threatened to make public in the coming weeks.

 

Date created : 2010-08-16

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