Petraeus leaves mixed legacy to successor


GENERAL DAVID Petraeus, the new Central Intelligence Agency chief, has handed over command of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan after damaging the Taliban but failing to reverse a rise in civilian deaths.

The 140,000-strong force will be led by Gen John Allen, a former deputy director of Central Command, which handles US operations in the Middle East and central Asia.

On taking over at a ceremony in Kabul, Gen Allen, a marine, said: “There will be tough days ahead.”

Gen Petraeus’s move is part of a security overhaul by President Barack Obama. He will continue to monitor operations by CIA paramilitary units in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan.

The architect of the troop surge in Iraq leaves Afghanistan at a time when western allies are edging towards the exit. The country’s security forces began taking formal responsibility at the weekend when police took command in largely peaceful Bamiyan province.

Six other towns and provinces are due to follow suit in coming weeks but the transition is largely symbolic because western forces will take the lead until foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

Gen Petraeus had mixed results, conducting aggressive operations in the south but failing to reverse a perception that Afghanistan is more dangerous now than when he took command a year ago.

Forces deployed in the 2010 surge pushed the Taliban from some strongholds in the south, bolstering security for people living around US positions.

Simultaneously, he ordered more kill-or-capture raids that plucked hundreds of insurgent chiefs from the battlefield but enraged many of the communities his forces were trying to protect.

Although the Taliban has suffered heavy battlefield attrition, it has stepped up a campaign to kill officials. The number of attacks by insurgents rose 51 per cent in the first quarter of this year against the same period in 2010.

The number of civilian casualties – a key measure of the success of a strategy that hinges on protecting the population – continued to rise during Gen Petraeus’s tenure. Almost 1,500 civilians were killed in the first six months of the year, with insurgents responsible for 80 per cent of these deaths. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011)