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General Petraeus takes command in Afghanistan

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 04 July 2010

The new leader of Nato forces in Afghanistan has wasted no time in getting to grips with the key element of the war, Nick Paton Walsh, embedded with US troops in Afghanistan, writes as General David Petraeus formally takes command of the 150,000 troops.

Getty, Petraeus

US General David Petraeus formally took command of the Nato-led force today at a ceremony at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul.

The general was appointed to the post last week after his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, was dismissed after some unguarded remarks about the Obama administration in a magazine interview.

Speaking to guests at the ceremony as he took control of the nine-year war fighting a growing Taliban insurgency, General Petraeus said: "We are engaged in a tough fight. After years of war we have arrived at a critical moment.   

"We all recognise the threat that the Taliban, al Qaeda and the other associated syndicate of extremists pose to this country, this region and to the world."

Petraeus takes on his post following the worst month of casualties for NATO forces since the war began in 2001. More than 100 died, bring the total to more than 1,900 since the war began.

Despite this, he said: "Nothing has been easy in Afghanistan. However, we can all take heart from the progress that has been made on the security front and beyond."

Petraeus has left little time in getting to grips with the main problem of the Afghan campaign - its message, writes Nick Paton Walsh, embedded with US troops in Afghanistan.

The Americans have been all over the place for about a year as Washington debated internally - and all too often in the press - why they should be here. Even McChrystal lacked the airspace or perhaps the gravitas to dominate in the kerfuffle.

Petraeus today said three things: al-Qaeda are here (not really true, but might be one day if NATO really lose); the Taliban kill civilians (the UN think the majority of deaths are caused by insurgents); and this is decisively it (well, it has been the last few times NATO said that).

Those three messages appeal to the American, Afghan and NATO publics respectively. We'll hear them again and again. Petraeus insisted the policy won't change, but here's the first clear shift. We'll hear him as the voice of America in Afghanistan now, and the voice of a politician, not a soldier.

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