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thedrifter
06-12-09, 07:17 AM
Petraeus: Afghan violence hit peak last week
By Lara Jakes - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Jun 12, 2009 6:47:39 EDT

WASHINGTON — Violence in Afghanistan has surged over the last two years and hit an all-time high in the last week, the United States’ top war zone commander said Thursday.

Gen. David Petraeus said the number of attacks in Afghanistan over the last week hit “the highest level” since the December 2001 fall of the Taliban. He did not provide hard numbers.

“Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must,” Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, said in a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security.

“But there is no question the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years in particular and there are difficult times ahead,” he said.

Extremist attacks in the rural nation tend to increase in the summer months, and in part are spurred by military efforts to crack down on insurgents, Petraeus said.

Petraeus, who lead the U.S. military’s “surge” in Iraq in 2007 that significantly reduced violence there, noted several challenges in Afghanistan he did not face while in Baghdad — including the inability of U.S. troops to live among the local residents.

He cited the need for “being good partners and good neighbors and having enormous concern, needless to say, about civilian casualties in everything we do.”

Petraeus did not shed light on an inquiry he is overseeing about U.S. air strikes in a western Afghanistan province that killed at least 30 civilians while trying to protect a village from a Taliban onslaught.

The inquiry’s results are to be released as early as Friday, but the Pentagon earlier this week said U.S. troops did not follow proper tactics and procedures during the May 4-5 assault in Farah province.

Afghan officials have said that the civilian toll was 140 dead, but U.S. commanders have said they believe no more than 30 civilians were killed, along with 60 to 65 Taliban insurgents.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Monday that it’s unclear whether an apparent failure by a B-1 bomber crew to follow procedures during the strikes “had anything to do with the fact that civilian casualties did occur in this incident.”

“But [investigators] did note that as one of the problems associated with how this all took place,” Morrell said.

In Brussels, after meeting Thursday with European defense ministers, Defense Sec. Robert Gates said that NATO allies agree with the United States that progress must be shown in Afghanistan over the next year to 18 months.

Gates said that after this summer’s election in Afghanistan, he hopes “to see if we can shift the momentum.”

Speaking to reporters traveling with him from the Netherlands to Belgium, Gates said: “If we can show we’re making progress, if we’re heading in the right direction, the American people and the Congress will sustain this effort. But if in a year or so it appears we are in a stalemate and we’re taking even more casualties, that patience would wear thin pretty soon.”

Gates said he wants a wide role for the military alliance in a rearranged hierarchy that will include his new team of hand-picked generals. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Gates’ choice as the top Afghanistan commander, is expected in Europe this week.

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Associated Press National Security Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this story from Brussels.

Ellie