* US general says ‘we are engaged in a contest of wills’
* Qaeda will not be allowed to again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan
KABUL: General David Petraeus boldly declared on Sunday “we are in this to win” as he took command of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan at a time of skepticism over a counter-insurgency strategy he himself pioneered and confusion over goals in an increasingly violent war.
As he accepted the command, Petraeus took a stab at clarifying the goals.
“We are engaged in a contest of wills,” he told several hundred US, coalition and Afghan officials who gathered on a grassy area outside NATO headquarters in Kabul. By killing and maiming civilians – even using “unwitting children to carry out attacks” – the
Taliban and their allies are trying to undermine public confidence in the Afghan government and the international community’s ability to prevail, he said.
“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 July 4, the US Independence Day. “That is our clear objective,” the commander added.
“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 Qaeda 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,” he said.
The new commander also reiterated his call for a united effort against the Taliban-led insurgency in the country.
In an effort to move past the rifts between the civilian and military camps, Petraeus reiterated the message he delivered on Saturday at the US embassy, “Cooperation is not optional,” he said.
Petraeus said the change in command meant a new face, not a new policy or strategy as the protection of the Afghan people would remain the focus of the military mission. He stressed the importance of avoiding civilian casualties but suggested he would examine the civilian and military policies “to determine where refinements might be needed”.
That suggested he would review – or at least refine – the implementation of rules under which NATO soldiers fight, including General Stanley McChrystal’s curbs on the use of airpower and heavy weapons if civilians are at risk.
“Protecting those we are here to help nonetheless does require killing, capturing or turning the insurgents. We will not shrink from that,” Petraeus wrote on Sunday in a memo to his troops. But he added that 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”. ap