Petraeus formally takes over Afghanistan campaign

US Gen. David Petraeus has
formally taken command of the 130,000-strong international force battling
insurgents in Afghanistan.

The general, whose strategy
in Iraq won praise and reduced violence, took over at a modest military
ceremony in Kabul.

Hoping to repeat his Iraq success,
the general insists Nato and the Afghan government must work hand-in-hand.

As an indication of his
task, June was the deadliest month for foreign troops since 2001, with 102
killed.

General Petraeus has already
warned that Taliban militants are confident and resilient, and he takes command
at a time when the war is entering a difficult phase, the BBC’s Quentin
Sommerville reports from Kabul.

The general arrived in
Afghanistan on Friday night and spent Saturday meeting US, Afghan and other
officials.

Determination

Sunday’s ceremony saw
General Petraeus assume command under the gaze of troops from the more than 40
nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

“We are engaged in a tough
fight. After years of war we have arrived at a critical moment,” he told those
assembled just outside the coalition’s headquarters.

Calling the battle in
Afghanistan “a contest of wills”, General Petraeus said the coalition would not
back down against the Taliban, despite a number of gloomy analyses of the war’s
progress.

“We are in this to win,” the
new commander said.

He paid tribute to his
predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was sacked after he and his aides mocked
and criticised political leaders in Washington and Kabul.

He made “enormous contributions”
in Afghanistan, General Petraeus said, praising the outgoing commander’s
“vision, energy and leadership”.

‘Tough mission’

General Petraeus has already
warned that the conflict may become more difficult before major improvements
are won.

He and US President Barack
Obama have both insisted a change of personnel at the top does not mean a
change in strategy.

“This is a tough mission,
there is nothing easy about it,” the general said on Saturday, at a US embassy
event.

“But working together we can
achieve progress and we can achieve our mutual objective.”

The gathering on the lawn
was upbeat with a rock band playing while dignitaries sat in tents eating
popcorn, hamburgers and ice cream, the Associated Press reports.

But the positive tone was
dampened by talk of Friday’s deadly attack on a house used by an American aid
organisation in the northern city of Kunduz, and the accidental killing of two
Afghan civilians during a raid in the south, the news agency adds.

US Ambassador to Afghanistan
Karl Eikenberry welcomed General Petraeus at the embassy gathering, saying:
“Welcome aboard. You are welcome at this embassy 24-7.”

Mr. Eikenberry was one of
the US officials criticised by General McChrystal in the Rolling Stone article
that led to his sacking.

Kandahar challenge

The general also met Afghan
President Hamid Karzai to discuss corruption among other issues, according to a
statement issued by the presidential palace.

Mr. Karzai used the meeting
to complain about what he said were “baseless” allegations made by
Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York, who suggested Afghan
government officials had misused or pocketed donor funds.

One of the general’s
impending tasks is to step up operations against the Taliban in Kandahar
province.

The campaign has been postponed
until September.

He has promised to use the
same counter-insurgency tactics he used in Iraq and that General McChrystal
introduced in Afghanistan earlier this year.

General Petraeus has also
pledged to look at the application of the current rules of engagement.

These are designed to reduce
civilian casualties but some US troops believe they put them at too great a
risk.

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Gen. Petraeus
Photo: File
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