KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - "We are in this to win," Gen. David
Petraeus said as he took the reins of an Afghan war effort troubled
by waning support, an emboldened enemy, government corruption and a
looming commitment to withdraw troops - even with no sign of
Petraeus, who pioneered the counterinsurgency strategy he now
oversees in Afghanistan, has just months to show progress in
turning back insurgents and convince both the Afghan people and
neighboring countries that the U.S. is committed to preventing the
country from again becoming a haven for al-Qaida and its terrorist
"We are engaged in a contest of wills," Petraeus said Sunday
as he accepted the command of U.S. and NATO forces before several
hundred U.S., coalition and Afghan officials who gathered on a
grassy area outside NATO headquarters in Kabul.
Petraeus, widely credited with turning around the U.S. war
effort in Iraq, said the Taliban and their allies are killing and
maiming civilians - even using "unwitting children to carry out
attacks" - in an attempt to undermine public confidence in the
Afghan government and the international community's ability to
"In answer, we must demonstrate to the people and to the
Taliban that Afghan and international forces are here to safeguard
the Afghan people, and that we are in this to win," Petraeus said
on the Fourth of July, U.S. Independence Day.
Continual discussion about President Barack Obama's desire to
start withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011 has blurred the
definition of what would constitute victory. That coupled with the
abrupt firing of Petraeus' predecessor, a move that laid bare a
rift between civilian and military efforts in the country, has
created at least the perception that the NATO mission needs to be
June was the deadliest month for the allied force since the war
began, with 102 U.S. and international troops killed. Progress in
stabilizing Taliban strongholds in the south has been slow, support
for the war is waning in the United States and allied nations, and
doubts persist about the Afghan government's willingness and
ability to fight corruption.
"After years of war, we have arrived at a critical moment,"
Petraeus said. "We must demonstrate to the Afghan people - and to
the world - that al-Qaida and its network of extremist allies will
not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan
from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on
freedom-loving nations around the world."
Petraeus suggested he would refine - or at least review - the
implementation of rules under which NATO soldiers fight, including
curbs on the use of airpower and heavy weapons if civilians are at
risk, "to determine where refinements might be needed."
Some troops have complained that such restraint puts their own
lives in danger and hands the battlefield advantage to the Taliban
and their allies.
"Protecting those we are here to help nonetheless does require
killing, capturing or turning the insurgents. We will not shrink
from that," Petraeus wrote Sunday in a memo to his troops. But he
added when they got into tough situations, NATO must "employ all
assets to ensure your safety, keeping in mind, again, the
importance of avoiding civilian casualties."
The rules aimed at protecting civilians were put in place under
Petraeus' predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was dismissed
last month for intemperate remarks he and his aides made to Rolling
Stone magazine about Obama administration officials - mostly on the
Petraeus praised McChrystal early in his 10-minute speech. "The
progress made in recent months - in the face of a determined enemy
- is in many respects the result of the vision, energy and
leadership he provided," he said.
In an effort to move past the rifts between the civilian and
military camps, Petraeus reiterated the message he delivered
Saturday at the U.S. Embassy: "Cooperation is not optional."
The new commander said everyone had worked hard during
McChrystal's tenure in Afghanistan to carry out an effective
civilian-military counterinsurgency, one that Petraeus pioneered in
Petraeus also sought to counter skepticism, even defeatism, that
was on display last month during hearings in Washington when
lawmakers challenged Pentagon assertions that progress was being
made in the war.
He acknowledged the fight in Afghanistan has been grueling, but
insisted progress had been made: 7 million Afghan children in
school compared with fewer than 1 million a decade ago; child
immunization rates at 70 percent or higher; new roads; and bustling
economies in several cities.
When announcing the 2011 target, Obama was careful to say any
pullout decisions would be based on improved security. Yet that
caveat has often been forgotten.
Obama's timetable has provided the Afghan government the impetus
to implement reforms and bolster governance deeper into the
provinces. But it also fueled fears in Afghanistan that the U.S.
commitment was fading in the almost nine-year-old war.