Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has told his troops that despite progress on both fronts, the U.S. and its allies face a tough fight in the year ahead.
With his trademark caution, Petraeus wrote in a letter to all troops in U.S. Central Command — stretching across the Middle East and throughout Central Asia — that improved security conditions in Iraq remain fragile and that while the Afghan army is improving, “the difficulties in Afghanistan are considerable.”
It was the first time since Petraeus took charge of Central Command on Oct. 31, following 20 months as the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, that he has offered troops what he called “my initial assessment of the situation” not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan and elsewhere in that region.
By ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press Writer
In this Dec. 10, 2008, file photo, Gen. David Petraeus, commander U.S. Central Command, arrives for a meeting at the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Manama, Bahrain. Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has told his troops that despite progress on both war fronts the U.S. and its allies face a tough fight in the year ahead.(AP Photo/Scott Olson, Pool)
The letter, dated Dec. 9, was released by his office at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
Petraeus has assembled a team of experts to conduct an in-depth and comprehensive review of his command area; it is expected to be completed by early February. His aides said that is separate from the “initial assessment” he offered in the letter to troops. The assessment was based on his own discussions and observations during extensive travels in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere over the past few months.
“In Iraq, we are building on the progress achieved by coalition and Iraqi forces in the course of difficult operations,” he wrote. He said gains have been encouraging but are still not irreversible — a theme he and other commanders have struck many times in arguing against a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Petraeus mentioned that further troop cuts in Iraq are planned, but he was not specific. President-elect Barack Obama has said he would consult with Petraeus and other commanders and senior civilian defense officials before carrying out his campaign promise to bring the Iraq war to an end.
“Numerous difficult issues loom on the horizon in the `Land of the Two Rivers,'” he wrote, alluding to the name derived from the important role the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have played in Iraq’s history. He noted the challenges of Iraqi elections to be held in 2009, plus “resilient enemies still carrying out deadly attacks, lingering ethno-sectarian mistrust and competition” and “malign external influences.”
Under a security agreement that President George W. Bush signed in Baghdad last weekend, U.S. combat forces are to be out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30 and all U.S. troops are to withdraw by the end of 2011.
“In Afghanistan, we and our Afghan partners are in a tough fight,” Petraeus wrote.
Noting that developing the foundations of Afghan government and economy “is typically more construction than reconstruction,” Petraeus said progress has been painstaking, with much yet to be accomplished.
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