Afghanistan — Forces Work Through ‘Tough’ Summer in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2010 — As U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan close a dif­fi­cult sum­mer of fight­ing, the top com­man­der there remains opti­mistic about the country’s future and com­mit­ted to the mil­i­tary mis­sion.

“We’re mak­ing progress,” Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said. “But we’ve got to make a lot more. It’s a tough fight.

In an inter­view broad­cast last night on “The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” Petraeus talked about the way for­ward and chal­lenges his forces and the Afghan gov­ern­ment face.

“There is no intent to look for exits and turn out the light, come next July 2011,” he said.

Despite an uptick in vio­lence, U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces remain stead­fast in their mis­sion in Afghanistan, the gen­er­al said. Near­ly 100,000 U.S. troops and 40,000 from oth­er nations are on the ground there.

“We should remem­ber why we’re here,” Petraeus said. “This is where the 9/11 attacks were planned. [Afghanistan] is very much a vital nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­est to the Unit­ed States and real­ly all the coun­tries of the world that are fight­ing extrem­ism to make sure that there are not sanc­tu­ar­ies in this coun­try once again from which transna­tion­al extrem­ists can launch attacks.”

The gen­er­al laud­ed Pakistan’s mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment for their efforts against extrem­ism on their side of the bor­der with Afghanistan. He said the Pak­ista­nis are “tight­en­ing the noose” and that root­ing out extrem­ists in north­west­ern Pak­istan “is a tough nut to crack.”

“The Pak­ista­nis have put a lot of short sticks into a lot of hor­nets’ nests,” he said. “If you’d asked me 18 months ago would they have con­duct­ed the oper­a­tions they have con­duct­ed, I would have doubt­ed it.”

Petraeus pre­vi­ous­ly com­mand­ed coali­tion forces in Iraq and over­saw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. He said Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces won’t be on their own when U.S. com­bat oper­a­tions offi­cial­ly end and Oper­a­tion New Dawn begins Sept. 1. He called the 50,000 remain­ing “advise and assist” U.S. troops an “enor­mous capa­bil­i­ty” that will con­tin­ue to be avail­able in Iraq.

“The real bot­tom line in Iraq, I think, is that it is – despite all of its chal­lenges – it is a much, much more hope­ful place than it was in Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary 2007 when the surge was launched and when there were 50 dead bod­ies in Bagh­dad every 24 hours,” he said.

Vio­lence like­ly won’t end in Iraq, he said, because extrem­ist ele­ments such as al-Qai­da and ille­gal mili­tias still remain there. How­ev­er, Iraqi forces are more than capa­ble, he added, with assis­tance from the remain­ing U.S. troops.

“The 70,000 Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces on the ground there gen­er­al­ly can deal with this with some assis­tance from the Unit­ed States,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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