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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.

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Taking command of troops in Afghanistan was technically a demotion for Petraeus, who led the US Central Command after Iraq. However, when US Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired after making controversial remarks in a Rolling Stone article, President Obama asked Petraeus to take command of troops in Afghanistan.

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Despite the fanfare that continues to surround Petraeus, Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, suggests that the relative brevity of Petraeus’s Afghan command may indicate some high-level displeasure with his performance here.

“Obama moving him to the CIA so quickly is a result of Obama's dissatisfaction with the war, and to me at least was a fairly noticeable snub,” says Mr. Foust.

What Afghans think about Petraeus

Afghans offer similarly mixed reviews of Petraeus. Many of those in political circles were aware of his reputation before he assumed command of Afghanistan and hoped the popular commander would bring an end to years of war.

Though many Afghans say they were pleased with select security gains that took place under Petraeus’s command, they also expressed umbrage about his increased use of night raids. Even though NATO-caused civilian casualties reportedly decreased under Petraeus, many Afghans were also displeased with his political handling of the issue.

“They didn’t switch the focus to combating roots of terrorism. During his command, they were still looking for terrorists here, but the main source of terrorists is in the tribal areas of Pakistan,” says Mohammed Naeem Lalai Hamidzai, a member of parliament from Kandahar and head of the internal security commission.

Pakistan and Petraeus

In his new position as CIA director, Petraeus is likely to continue to shape the war. In his farewell address, without specifically naming Pakistan, he pointed to the difficulty of defeating an insurgency that can establish havens outside the country.

“Where, as commander in Afghanistan, his territory stopped at the Afghan border, even though he interacted fairly regularly with the Pakistani military; as the director of the CIA his territory is global and in this particular part of the world I think he’s going to be able to affect and influence events much more in an Afghanistan-Pakistan single theater outlook than he was able to do as a military commander in Afghanistan, where he was bounded by his territorial limits,” says David Barno, who commanded US and international forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

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