Petraeus Hands Over Command in Afghanistan

Posted July 18th, 2011 at 4:40 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. General David Petraeus has handed over command of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan to U.S. General John Allen at a ceremony in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

In his farewell address Monday, Petraeus noted progress made but also warned of a tough fight ahead. He said “there is nothing easy about such a fight especially when the enemy can exploit sanctuaries outside the country.”

Allen, who headed the U.S. Central Command, said it is his intention to maintain the “momentum of the campaign.” He said he wants to see Afghanistan become a secure and stable environment free from extremism and terrorism.

Petraeus commanded 140,000 U.S. and coalition forces, but is leaving the post to head the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He received a medal from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and left the country after the ceremony. On the way home to Washington, the general paid a farewell visit to Turkish Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner in Ankara.

The change of command comes at a time when international forces have begun to pull out of the war-torn country, and violence has reached its worst levels in the almost 10-year war.

In violence Monday, NATO said separate bomb attacks in the country's south and east killed four troops, while another service member died as a result of a non-battle related injury in the north.

A roadside bomb killed the police chief of Registan district and three other police officers in southern Kandahar province, and at least two Afghans were beheaded in western Farah province after being abducted last week along with at least 30 others for supporting the Afghan government. More than a dozen of the kidnapping victims have been released.

The day before, a senior advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a member of parliament were killed in an attack in Kabul.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan province. Khan was killed along with Uruzgan lawmaker Mohammad Ashim Watanwal late Sunday when two men wearing suicide vests targeted Khan's home in the capital.

President Karzai attended Khan's funeral Monday. The assassination follows the killing of the Afghan leader's half-brother last week. Ahmad Wali Karzai was seen as the most powerful figure in southern Afghanistan.

The attacks have fueled doubts about Afghan forces' readiness to take over security control from international troops.

On Sunday, Bamiyan province became the first of seven areas to be handed over during the first phase of the transition, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. The United States and allied countries are set to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan in three years.

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he will withdraw 33,000 of the 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan over the next 14 months.

During Monday's transfer of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak warned against a hasty drawdown of foreign forces.