Gen. Petraeus hands over command in Afghanistan

KABUL: Gen. David Petraeus handed over command of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan to Gen. John Allen on Monday, transferring responsibility for the nearly 10-year war as Kabul’s international allies draw up exit plans from the conflict. Petraeus steps down after a mixed one-year stint in charge of the more than 140,000 international troops in the country. He was the architect of the strategy that aimed to bring peace through an emphasis on protecting the local population and decisive strikes against insurgents.

But as he leaves, it is unclear whether the strategy has made Afghanistan safer. Violent attacks have continued, though international military officials argue they are not as widespread or as intense as they would have been otherwise. Allen, who officially took command at a ceremony in Kabul on Monday morning, said the drawdown of US forces that started earlier this month and the transition of some areas to Afghan control this week does not mean that international forces are easing up in their campaign to defeat the Taleban insurgency.  “It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign,” Allen said at the handover ceremony in the Afghan capital. He said however, that he does not expect the fight to be easy.

“There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges ahead,” said Allen, who was promoted to a four-star general shortly before the handover ceremony. Petraeus, who is retiring from the military to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and American officials in the US have trumpeted success in reclaiming Taleban strongholds in southern Afghanistan and training Afghan security forces as signs that they are finally making progress toward peace in Afghanistan. But violent attacks have continued, including a number of high-profile assaults and assassinations in recent weeks.

On Monday morning, a bomb killed three international service members in the east, NATO said in a statement. It did not provide nationalities or further details. Most of the troops in the east are American. At least 37 international forces have been killed so far this month in Afghanistan. In the south on Monday, a roadside bomb killed a district police commander and his driver. Wali Mohammad, the police chief for Argistan district in Kandahar province, was driving to work when his vehicle struck the explosive, said Sher Shah Yosufzai, the provincial deputy police chief. The handover ceremony in Kabul came just hours after security forces in the capital killed the final attacker in the assassination of a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for that attack, in which two gunmen shot Karzai adviser Jan Mohammed Khan and a parliamentarian he was meeting with in his house. The deaths were announced late Sunday night and one attacker was quickly killed, but fighting continued inside the house until early Monday morning as police tried to take out the remaining assailant who had barricaded himself in the house, police said. One police officer was killed, the Interior Ministry said. The shooting and small explosions finally ended about 3 a.m. and reporters on the scene saw the body of the final attacker dragged out of the house on a plastic sheet.

It was the second important Karzai ally in the south to be killed in the space of seven days. On Tuesday, Karzai’s half-brother was gunned down by a close associate in Kandahar city. The Taleban also claimed responsibility for that attack. Khan was governor of the Pashtun-dominated Uruzgan province in the south from 2002 until March 2006 and has remained influential in the area. Though he was often labeled a warlord and a thug by the international community, presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said Karzai considered him a key partner in the south and a bulwark against the Taleban.

“Jan Mohammed Khan was one of the most influential leaders in the south, especially in Uruzgan,” Omar said. As an example of Karzai’s trust in Khan, Omar explained a tribal dispute the adviser helped calm.
“Only two months ago, Jan Mohammed Khan resolved a huge dispute between the Hazaras in Uruzgan and one of the Pashtun tribes. The president said, ‘Jan Mohammed Khan was the only one who can resolve that problem because both sides respect him,’” Omar recalled. – Arabnews