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Petraeus: expect more violence in Afghanistan

By Sarah Smith, Channel 4 News

Updated on 29 June 2010

America's new top commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has warned that the security situation remains "tenuous''. International Editor Lindsey Hilsum explains why his job could get tougher.

Protesters at Gen. Petraeus' confirmation hearing (Credit: Reuters)

As General Petraeus sat before the Senate Committee on Capitol Hill it appeared this confirmation hearing would be little more than a nod through.

With the loss of the trusted and popular General Stanley McChrystal as leader of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, the US government is in desperate need of a stable pair of hands.

Expect more violence
A celebrated figure he may be, but the general is not being universally welcomed. Protesters from Code Pink made their views clear inside the hearing, with posters bearing slogans like "new general, old war", "US troops home", "RIP one million Iraqis" and "freeze Pentagon spending" - their banners reflecting dwindling public support for the war.

The general had little to offer to calm the audience or appeal to the war-weary politicians. Instead Petraeus described the situation in Afghanistan as "tenuous" and warned of a further escalation of violence.

"My sense is that tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," he told the Senate Armed Service Committee: "As we take away the enemy’s safe havens and reduce the enemy’s freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."
While warning that the Taliban insurgency remained resilient and confident that it could out last the US and its allies, Petraeus did make clear he supported Obama's overall strategy – including the gradual withdrawal of troops from July 2011. But he played down any hopes of a swift turnaround.

Washington correspondent Sarah Smith writes
The last time General Petraeus appeared in front of the US congress he passed out. It was put down to jet lag and dehydration at the time. The incident inspired quite a few jokes around Washington but it doesn't seem to have done the four-star general's reputation any real harm. 

.... today he finds himself back in front of congress once again for confirmation hearings before he can ship out to Kabul. Petraeus probably doesn't need to worry about whether or not his appointment will be approved. Even Senator John McCain – who will oppose any decision Obama makes on a point of principle – has said this ought to be the swiftest confirmation in history.

Petraeus is a bullet-proof general. And there should be a relatively seamless handover between McChrystal and Petraeus because there isn't much difference in strategy between the two men.

And what will make lots of people nervous is the fact that these Petraeus confirmation hearings will shine a bright light on America's policy in Afghanistan – and its failures.

Read Sarah Smith's blog in full here

'An industrial strength insurgency'
One area of policy the allied forces do agree on, is that withdrawal cannot take place until Afghan security forces are in place, and Petraeus acknowledged the "hugely challenging" task of building up those forces.

He told the committee that helping to train and equip host nation forces in the midst of an insurgency is "akin to building an advanced aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed and while it is being shot at.

He added: "There is nothing easy about it."

For more on policy differences
- CIS chief: Afghan war "harder than anticipated"

Dwindling support
Nine years into the conflict public support for the war is waning. This month has been most deadly of the entire campaign for the allied forces, with more than 100 Nato troops killed. Overall the United States has lost 1,139 soldiers.

The sobering number comes amid growing debate over strict rules of engagement for US soldiers. Many say the current standards put US forces at unnecessary risk in order to protect Afghan civilians; it is an issue Petraeus pledged to address.

He told the committee: "I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troops on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know I will look very hard at this issue."

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