Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gen Petraeus warns of tough Afghan mission ahead

Updated on : Saturday, July 02, 2010

KABUL: The United States' top field commander, General David Petraeus, warned on Saturday of a tough mission ahead a day after arriving to take command of the 150,000-strong NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan.

Petraeus told hundreds of guests at a U.S. embassy party held to mark U.S. independence day that it was essential to show unity of purpose to solve Afghanistan's problems.

"This is a tough mission, there is nothing easy about it," he said at the sprawling and heavily fortified U.S. embassy complex in Kabul, Washington's biggest foreign mission anywhere in the world and boasting 5 ambassadors.

Petraeus is charged with not only winning the war against a growing Taliban insurgency, but also with starting a withdrawal of U.S. forces from July next year.

Wearing casual camouflage under a scorching Kabul sun, Petraeus and a besuited U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on Saturday welcomed scores of guests to an embassy compound liberally decorated with Stars and Stripes flags.

A brass band played as guests munched on burgers, corn-on-the-cob, popcorn and ice-cream cones.

Petraeus's appointment could be a last throw of the dice for Washington to end an increasingly costly conflict that is draining Western budgets as they emerge from one of the worst global recessions in history.

He landed in Kabul on Friday after his appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives approved $33 billion in funding for a troop surge he hopes will turn the tide of the war.

The surge will bring to 150,000 the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan just as a new strategy takes root. It entails tackling the Taliban in their strongholds while relying on the government to simultaneously improve local governance and development.

Petraeus, who is due to formally take command at a ceremony at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters on Sunday, is credited with turning the tide of the war in Iraq using similar tactics.

ISAF said on Saturday that a service member had died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in the south.

Nearly 1,900 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 -- including more than 100 last month, the bloodiest since the war began.

The last two weeks have thrown an especially harsh light on the war effort, with new reports of corruption in President Hamid Karzai's government and the change in command of foreign forces.

Doubts have also been raised over the commitment of the government to push governance and development alongside the military drive, and also the ability of Afghan forces to take over responsibility for security.

At the same time, Karzai has been wooing the Taliban with a series of modest peace overtures, all have which have been rejected by the hardline Islamist movement, which insists all foreign forces must leave before they will end the insurgency.


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