By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 20, 2010 - As U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan close a difficult summer of fighting, the top commander there remains optimistic about the country's future and committed to the military mission.
"We're making progress," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said. "But we've got to make a lot more. It's a tough fight.
In an interview broadcast last night on "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," Petraeus talked about the way forward and challenges his forces and the Afghan government face.
"There is no intent to look for exits and turn out the light, come next July 2011," he said.
Despite an uptick in violence, U.S. and international forces remain steadfast in their mission in Afghanistan, the general said. Nearly 100,000 U.S. troops and 40,000 from other nations are on the ground there.
"We should remember why we're here," Petraeus said. "This is where the 9/11 attacks were planned. [Afghanistan] is very much a vital national security interest to the United States and really all the countries of the world that are fighting extremism to make sure that there are not sanctuaries in this country once again from which transnational extremists can launch attacks."
The general lauded Pakistan's military and government for their efforts against extremism on their side of the border with Afghanistan. He said the Pakistanis are "tightening the noose" and that rooting out extremists in northwestern Pakistan "is a tough nut to crack."
"The Pakistanis have put a lot of short sticks into a lot of hornets' nests," he said. "If you'd asked me 18 months ago would they have conducted the operations they have conducted, I would have doubted it."
Petraeus previously commanded coalition forces in Iraq and oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as commander of U.S. Central Command. He said Iraqi security forces won't be on their own when U.S. combat operations officially end and Operation New Dawn begins Sept. 1. He called the 50,000 remaining "advise and assist" U.S. troops an "enormous capability" that will continue to be available in Iraq.
"The real bottom line in Iraq, I think, is that it is – despite all of its challenges – it is a much, much more hopeful place than it was in January and February 2007 when the surge was launched and when there were 50 dead bodies in Baghdad every 24 hours," he said.
Violence likely won't end in Iraq, he said, because extremist elements such as al-Qaida and illegal militias still remain there. However, Iraqi forces are more than capable, he added, with assistance from the remaining U.S. troops.
"The 70,000 Iraqi security forces on the ground there generally can deal with this with some assistance from the United States," he said.