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US General Petraeus hands over command in Afghanistan amid wave of attacks

US General David Petraeus, the new director of the CIA, officially handed over command of US- and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan at a time of increasing instability.

By Correspondent / July 18, 2011

The outgoing US and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, salutes during a changing of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 18. Gen. John Allen took over command of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan on Monday from Petraeus.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP


Kabul, Afghanistan

US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, officially relinquished command of international forces here to US Marine Gen. John Allen in a ceremony in Kabul on Monday. Unlike with his departure from Iraq, Petraeus leaves his successor a war that is far from over.

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Also unlike with the handover in Iraq, Petraeus’s legacy here is unsettled even a day after the gradual process of transferring security to Afghan forces began. The policies that some herald as major achievements in stabilizing the country are the same policies that many observers say risk creating an element of insecurity: chief among them, the Afghan local police program, increased night raids, and airstrikes that reportedly led to the killing or capturing of hundreds of insurgents.

“We have reached an important juncture in our combined campaign. You and our Afghan partners have wrested the momentum from the enemies of the new Afghanistan in much of the country,” said Petraeus at the ceremony, citing gains in the south and a decrease in the number of insurgent attacks compared with last year. “Even as we note the hard-fought progress of the last year and commence the transition process, we should be cleareyed about the challenges that lie ahead.”

The handover ceremony was far more low-key than it was nearly three years ago in Iraq. Then, Petraeus was credited with turning around the Iraq war. Though his successor there, Gen. Ray Odierno, warned of a “fragile” situation ahead, the event took place in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces amid a festive atmosphere. Odierno was the fourth American commander in Iraq but the first to take over while the situation was improving.

In Kabul, Petraeus officially transferred command to Allen on base outside the International Security Assistance Force headquarters building. The night before the ceremony, a member of parliament and a prominent Afghan politician were killed by a suicide bomber inside the politician’s home in a secure area of the city. A week earlier, President Hamid Karzai’s half brother was shot in his home.

After only a year in command, though, many analysts agree that Petraeus's reputation will likely remain unaffected.

“Those who wanted to portray him as a larger-than-life magician whose very touch would turn problems to gold may have a harder time making that case now, it’s true. But for those of us who always viewed him as a mere mortal, yet an extraordinary mortal, what he has done in Afghanistan, while not transformative, has been impressive in its own right,” says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


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