Petraeus says Taliban momentum halted in key areas

By John Simpson
World affairs editor, BBC News

media captionGeneral Petraeus: "When you take away areas that mean a great deal to the enemy the enemy fights back"

The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan says the momentum built up by the Taliban has been reversed in the south of the country and capital Kabul.

General David Petraeus said it was important to destroy the safe havens of Taliban.

He also said he would offer President Obama his best professional advice on the wisdom of handing control to Afghan forces next July.

It was the president's prerogative to accept or reject that advice, he added.

The man who staged, if not a victory in Iraq, then certainly a remarkable change in its fortunes, seems confident he can do the same in Afghanistan.

For one thing, he made it clear he did not feel that he had Washington breathing down his neck.

If he thought President Obama's deadline of next July for the start of an American withdrawal involved too much risk, he said he would tell him so.

Wasn't he worried he might get the sack, like the man whose place he took here, General Stanley McChrystal?

"When you go into a job like this, you always think it's your last job," he replied.

He pointedly did not disagree that the Americans had taken their eyes off the ball here in Afghanistan by invading Iraq.

And he said he told the then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the war here would stretch out a long time.

That did not elicit wild applause, he said.

Gen Petraeus is injecting a new note of confidence into the Nato campaign and he is doing what he did in Iraq- talking up the chances of success, while restricting expectations.

It is clear he expects more casualties as Nato captures Taliban strongholds.

But he got visibly emotional when he talked about the deaths of men under his command.

Did he care about casualties, I asked?

"Absolutely," he said.

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