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New Afghanistan commander says everyone should 'work together'

July 1, 2010

One day after being confirmed by the US Senate as commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus has briefed allies at NATO headquarters in Brussels. He warned there were tough times ahead to fight the insurgency.

US and NATO forces commander in Afghanistan U.S. Army General David Petraeus (left) and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
General Petraeus (left) and NATO Secretary General RasmussenImage: AP

"We must all work together," US General David Petraeus told NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels on Thursday.

"Within the US structure we must work together, within the greater ISAF structure we must work together and then with our Afghan partners without question we must work together. We must achieve unity of effort in what is clearly an effort to achieve mutual objectives," he added.

General Petraeus said that he would give his forces the right firepower to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan but also insisted that a high priority was to spare civilian lives.

He said that although US troops were unhappy with the rules of engagement imposed by his predecessor, which limit air strikes and artillery and mortar fire to prevent civilian casualties, there was "no intent to change" them.

Compared to the same period last year, he said, there had been a 50 percent reduction in the loss of civilian lives in the past 12 weeks.

Only hope for salvaging NATO mission

The general, who was backed unanimously by the US Senate on Wednesday as the replacement for dismissed commander Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, is thought by some observers to be US President Obama's only hope for salvaging the unpopular international mission in the country, nine years after the Taliban were ousted.

General David Petraeus testifies before the US Senate, which confirmed him unanimously
General David Petraeus testifies before the US SenateImage: picture alliance/dpa

He earned a reputation for himself in Iraq, where he is credited with pulling back the country from all-out sectarian warfare, and is "clearly qualified" for the task ahead in Afghanistan, Democrat Senator Russ Feingold said.

"Regardless of who is in command, the president's current strategy is counterproductive," Feingold added.

After the confirmation in Washington, President Obama said that "the Senate’s quick action and General Petraeus' unrivalled experience will ensure we do not miss a beat in our strategy to break the Taliban's momentum and build Afghan capacity."

Fighting could get "more intense"

The general is taking over at a time when the insurgency in Afghanistan is extremely deadly, with 100 foreign troops being killed in June alone – the worse toll since the war began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Petraeus has warned the counter-insurgency could get "more intense" in the next few months.

On Wednesday, Taliban fighters attacked a major NATO base in eastern Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents attacked a NATO base in a brazen attack on Wednesday
Taliban insurgents attacked a NATO base in a brazen attack on WednesdayImage: AP

The war is increasingly unpopular in the US and in the other NATO states. Politicians and military commanders are hoping to be able to withdraw international when the Afghan forces are able to take over security for their own country. However, Petraeus has said this could take "a number of years".

Petraeus, who was chosen for the job after McChrystal was fired by President Obama for insubordination, is expected to arrive in Afghanistan in the next few days.

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein