By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
March 16, 2010 - Though considerable challenges remain in Afghanistan, success there is achievable and important, the commander of U.S. Central Command said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus also noted progress in Iraq during testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "We've spent much of the past year working to get the inputs right in Afghanistan," Petraeus said. "We've worked to get the structures right, put the best leaders in charge, develop the right concepts and provide the authorities and resources needed for unity of effort. And with those inputs now in place, we're starting to see the outputs."
The United States has added a third of the 30,000 additional forces it plans to have in place in Afghanistan by August, Petraeus said. NATO partners have committed to adding 9,000 forces to the effort.
Petraeus said the recent counterinsurgency offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province is only the beginning of a larger campaign to wrest control of Afghanistan from terrorists.
"This civilian-military campaign will unfold over the next 18 months, and it's going to likely get harder before it gets easier," the general said. "We're not likely to see the levels of violence we saw at the peak in Iraq, but 2010 will be a difficult year. We will see a reversal of the Taliban, but it's going to be tough fighting and periodic setbacks."
As the military builds up in Afghanistan, U.S. leaders continue to work with NATO allies to increase their commitment of trainers for the Afghan army and police, Petraeus said.
President Barack Obama's July 2011 target for the start of a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan has given Afghan leaders a sense of urgency in building up their own forces, Petraeus said.
"We've also sought to reassure leaders that's not a date in which we bolt for the exits, but begin a conditions-based process for a responsible reduction in forces," he added.
In Iraq, attacks are down at least 90 percent from the higher levels of violence experienced in 2006 and 2007, Petraeus said, and Centcom already has reduced forces in Iraq to 96,000 and will continue to draw down to 50,000 in August. Repairs to infrastructure, basic services, international investment and social and political areas all have improved, he added.
"As always, progress is still fragile," the general said, "and it could still be reversed." He described the Arab-Kurd dispute over Kirkuk and other territories in northern Iraq as "the greatest potential Iraqi flashpoint."
Petraeus said he has discussed the possibility of keeping a headquarters brigade intact in Iraq's northern Kurdish region.