WASHINGTON, July 4, 2010 — The objective in Afghanistan is to win, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said today as he formally assumed command of the International Security Force in Afghanistan.
After receiving the green flag of the NATO-led force and the blue flag of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, Petraeus said ISAF and the Afghan government are engaged in a test of wills with the enemy.
“Our enemy is doing all that they can to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people,” he said in front of NATO’s headquarters building in the Afghan capital of Kabul. “In so doing, they are killing and maiming Afghan civilians on a daily basis.”
Speaking in front of assembled U.S., international and Afghan leaders, the general said the Taliban and al-Qaida are using women and children to launch attacks and to intimidate the population.
Petraeus spoke directly to fears among Afghans that the United States and international partners will walk away from the country. The United States, ISAF and allied nations are committed to a sustained effort in Afghanistan, Petraeus said.
“Certainly, the character of our commitment will change over time,” he said. “Indeed, Afghans and the citizens of ISAF countries look forward to the day when conditions will permit the transition of further tasks to Afghan forces. In the meantime, all of us at ISAF pledge our full commitment to protect your nation from militants who allowed al-Qaida sanctuary when they ruled the country.”
The general called his assumption of command a change in personnel, but not in policy or strategy. The counterinsurgency effort put in place by former commander Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will remain, he said, and protecting the people of Afghanistan is key to that effort.
“To be sure, I will — as any new commander should, together with ISAF, Afghan and diplomatic partners –examine our civil-military effort to determine where refinements might be needed,” he said. “But our military objectives remain the same: Together with our Afghan partners, we must secure and serve the people of Afghanistan.”
A major portion of that mission is to train and support Afghan security forces and to increase the effectiveness of the Afghan government, Petraeus said, so Afghan soldiers and police and government officials can protect the people and deliver services to the population. “In pursuing these tasks,” he added, “we clearly must pursue the insurgents relentlessly.”
The general spoke directly to the more than 130,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. “I pledge to do all that I can to provide the best leadership, direction and example that I can muster,” he pledged.
Recent months in Afghanistan have seen hard fighting and an increase in ISAF and Afghan security force casualties. Reducing unintended civilian casualties is a must, Petraeus told the ISAF team, but “as those on the ground strive to achieve that intent, we will not hesitate to bring all assets to bear to protect you and the Afghan forces with which you are fighting shoulder to shoulder.”
Unity of will and purpose are crucial to success in Afghanistan, the general noted. “We are all – civilian and military, Afghan and international – part of one team and one mission,” he said. “Indeed, we all recognize the grave threat that the Taliban, al-Qaida and other associated syndicates of extremists pose to this country, to this region and to the world.”
The coalition and the Afghan government cannot accomplish the mission without working together, Petraeus emphasized.
“Each of your organizations brings tremendous commitment and unique skills and attributes to the team or teams at work in Afghanistan,” he said. “I look forward to what our organizations will accomplish together as we reinforce a culture here that recognizes that cooperation is not optional.”
Nothing is easy in Afghanistan, Petraeus said, and the fight is at a critical moment. The threat from al-Qaida remains, he said, and all must guard against allowing the terror network to re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and freedom-loving nations around the world.
Progress has taken place in Afghanistan Petraeus said, noting that more than 7 million Afghan children are in school. Immunization rates for Afghan children are between 70 and 90 percent, he added, and cell phones – once banned – are ubiquitous.
“Kabul is a busy, bustling city, as are Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad,” he said. “Roads and bridges and other infrastructure have been built, and the future holds even greater promise, if we can resist those who want to turn the clocks back in Afghanistan rather than let the march of progress continue. With the surge of coalition forces and the growth of Afghan partners, we have a new opportunity to do just that.”
During a talk with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday, Petraeus said, he supported the president’s commitment to inclusiveness, transparency, integrity and accountability. “I look forward to working with each of you to make his watchwords realities,” he said.
The new commander recognized McChrystal’s contributions.
“We have all worked hard together over the last year and a half to get the inputs right in Afghanistan – to build the organizations needed to carry out a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign, to get the best individuals possible in charge of those organizations, to ensure we have our plans and concepts right and to garner and deploy the forces and other resources needed to implement those plans and concepts,” he said.
“No one did more in helping get the inputs right than General McChrystal,” he continued, “and the progress made in recent months in the face of a determined enemy is in many respects due to the vision, energy and leadership he provided during his time as [commander].”
Petraeus was serving as commander U.S. Central Command when President Barack Obama chose him to replace McChrystal, who resigned amid controversy over remarks attributed to him and his staff in a magazine article. As Centcom commander, Petraeus had intimate knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan and well-established relationships with allies in the region.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)