By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 23, 2010 - The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan today cited encouraging signs of progress in Afghanistan during an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention and in a BBC interview.
Speaking from Afghanistan in a video broadcast at the VFW national convention in Indianapolis, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus noted that Afghan forces are increasing in both capability and capacity, and have captured or killed numerous extremist leaders. He also cited a decrease in civilian casualties.
His comments tracked with those broadcast today on BBC, in which the general said the Taliban's momentum has been reversed in some of its former stronghold areas, including the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
NATO forces will build on this progress in other areas as well, Petraeus said, but he emphasized that some "tough fighting" should be expected as the enemy fights back.
"You not only have to reverse the momentum, you have to take away those sanctuaries and safe havens that the Taliban have been able to establish over the course of those years," he told the BBC.
"That's going to entail tough fighting," Petraeus warned. "When you take away areas that mean a great deal to the enemy, the enemy fights back. It gets harder before it gets easier."
Petraeus emphasized that July 2011 represents only the beginning of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. "That's a date when a process begins, nothing more, nothing less," he said. "It's not a date when American forces look for an exodus and look for the exit and the light to turn off on the way out of the room."
Leading up to that transition, U.S. forces will pass security responsibility to Afghan security forces "in those areas where conditions allow it, and at a pace allowed by the conditions," he said.
Petraeus received the VFW Eisenhower Distinguished Service Medal today. The VFW presents the award to an individual whose contributions have promoted American security, unity and world peace.
In addition, Keni Thomas, a country music star and former Army Ranger who served in the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, received the VFW Hall of Fame Award.