Brad Norington, Washington correspondent June 13, 2009
Article from: The Australian
THE US military's Central Command chief is predicting difficult times in the Afghanistan war, after the worst violence of the conflict erupted over the past week.
General David Petraeus gave a frank assessment yesterday about the deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan, saying the only hope lay in a revised strategy that combined a combat surge with greater emphasis on civilian needs.
Addressing a Washington think tank, the head of US Central Command in charge of US forces in the Middle East andCentral Asia said: "It has tobe a whole-of-government approach."
General Petraeus, best known for his success in leading the 2007 military surge in Iraq that led to a dramatic reduction in violence, highlighted the peculiar difficulties of waging war in Afghanistan during an address to the Centre for a New American Security.
Unlike in Iraq, he said, coalition forces could not "live among the people" because there were no towns in many areas of conflict, and rare dwellings sometimes housed 10 to 12 people.
Troops were forced to base themselves on high ground that overlooked villages.
Extremes in weather and difficult terrain in the mountainous areas near the Pakistan border remained impediments, he said.
General Petraeus said most violence occurred in "hotspots" around Kabul and Kandahar, with two-thirds of fighting in 10per cent of districts.
Referring to Taliban attacks since the regime was ousted and forced into the hills in December 2001, the military chief said the highest level of security incidents "in Afghanistan's history" had been recorded over the past week.
"Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must, but there is no question that the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years in particular and there are difficult times ahead."
There were reports yesterday of more than 400 insurgent attacks in Afghanistan last week. Attacks on government infrastructure have made it especially difficult to re-establish order.
Last December, General Petraeus confirmed he had recommended a big troop surge in Afghanistan, which he said yesterday would have forces increased from 31,000 to 68,000 by the northern autumn.
The Australian reported in March that the war was predicted to run for up to a decade more, and that Canberra should be prepared for a lengthy engagement by its troops.
According to leading US counter-insurgency expert John Nagl, the eight-year campaign in Afghanistan was not even at the halfway mark. Dr Nagl, president of the Centre for a New American Security, told The Australian at the time: "We have more fighting in front of us than behind us."
General Stanley McChrystal, the new US commander in Afghanistan, has been given his pick of up to 400 officers and special operations veterans, as part of an escalated offensive against Taliban fighters, and the local drug trade that helps finance insurgents.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the assembled corps would rotate between the US and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years, a commitment to one theatre of war unknown in the modern military outside Special Operations.
General Petraeus also dismissed an allegation, reported by the Weekly Standard's website, that the Obama administration had quietly ordered FBI agents to make detainees in Afghanistan aware of their right to remain silent and demand a lawyer, known as the Miranda rights. Asked about the claim, he told the Washington gathering: "The real rumour yesterday is whether our forces were reading Miranda rights to detainees and the answer to that is no."'
Some critics of President Barack Obama, who argue he is putting rights before security for those detained in war, have rushed to say the measure hampers intelligence gathering during legitimate interrogations.
But General Petraeus said the FBI was continuing the practice of reading detainees their rights in a limited number of cases where accused militants would face trials in civilian courts.
He painted a different picture of the Iraq conflict, saying substantial progress had been made. But he warned that Iraq was "still fragile and reversible".