Soldiers search for explosives cache
Soldiers search the location of a improvised explosive devise cache found in Sharana, Paktika province, Afghanistan, Feb. 15, 2010.

WASHINGTON (Feb. 22, 2010) -- With U.S. forces entering the second week of a 12- to 18-month campaign in Afghanistan, the general in charge of U.S. forces in the region acknowledged yesterday that the way ahead will be tough.

"I have repeatedly said that these types of efforts are hard, and they're hard all the time," Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Likening operations in Afghanistan to the surge in Iraq, the general pointed out that when U.S. forces go on the offensive to take away Taliban safe havens, they will see definite resistance.

Petraeus said the past year has been spent putting things in place for a "comprehensive civil military campaign," putting in the best leaders, helping to develop concepts, giving counterinsurgency guidance and starting to filter an additional 30,000 forces into the country.

"So the inputs we think now are about right, and now we're starting to see the first of the output, and the Marja operation is the initial salvo, the initial operation in that overall campaign," he said.

Early results have included taking down high-value targets, such as Taliban shadow governors, Petraeus said.

"We are there for a very, very important reason and we can't forget that," Petraeus emphasized. "We are in Afghanistan to ensure that it cannot once again be a sanctuary for the kind of attacks that were carried out on 9/11, which were planned initially in Kandahar, first training done in eastern Afghanistan before the attackers moved to Hamburg and then on to U.S. flight schools."

When asked if al-Qaida still poses a threat to the United States, Petraeus pointed out that the terrorist organization is a "flexible, adaptable" enemy whose threat, although diminished within the 20 countries making up the Central Command area, is one that requires constant vigilance.

"It is a network, and it takes a network to keep the pressure on a network, and that is, indeed, what we are endeavoring to do," Petraeus said.

Although he wouldn't get into the details on the intelligence operations surrounding the recent capture of Afghanistan's No. 2 Taliban commander, Abdul Baradar, Petraeus said Pakistan leaders have done "very impressive" work over the past several months leading up to this event.

"They saw this as the most pressing existential threat to their country, and they supported the Pakistan army and frontier corps as it went into Swat in the Malikan division of the northwest frontier province, and then expanded this operation in to the federally administered tribal areas," Petraeus said. "They know they can't just clear and leave. They have to clear, hold, build and, over time, transition to the local security forces. That's indeed, what they are endeavoring to do. They are carrying out this fight."

On the topic of potentially revising the law that prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in the military, Petraeus said he's sure there's a very sound and good process at work on that issue.

During Feb. 2 testimony before the Senate, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the creation of a review to be headed by Gen. Carter F. Ham and the Defense Department's general counsel, Jeh C. Johnson.

"It will provide a rigorous analysis of the views of the force on the possible change," Petraeus said. "It will suggest the policies that could be used to implement a change, if it does come to that, so that it could be as uneventful as it was, say, in the U.K. or the Israeli militaries or, indeed, in our own CIA and FBI."

The general said that he'll be ready to provide his input on the topic when he testifies before Congress with other combatant commanders in a few weeks.

"I think that it's very important that these issues be handled and discussed and addressed by this review that will be so important in forming decisions as we move forward," Petraeus said. "I think it is hugely important that we have the answers from the questions that they'll be asking in a very methodical way - something we've not done before because of the emotion and the sensitivity of this issue."

Page last updated Tue February 23rd, 2010 at 06:13