U.S. General David Petraeus relinquished command of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan on Monday. A new U.S. commander, Gen. John Allen, formally took control of the decade-long war that has cost the lives of 1,667 American men and women.
This transition is part of the gradual transfer of security to Afghan forces. The U.S. has already begun withdrawing 100,000 troops from the country.
Petraeus leaves his military post to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is expected to start his new job in September.
He took control of Afghanistan on July 4, 2010. During his tenure, he oversaw a troop “surge” of an additional 30,000 extra U.S. forces in 2010, a move that is credited for halting the momentum of a growing Taliban insurgency.
The general is known for pushing the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, a plan with an emphasis on protecting the local civilians and making more decisive attacks against insurgents. The main objective with this strategy is to push insurgents out by force so that the local government can build a system that would win over the loyalty of its citizens. It is also designed to encourage insurgents to re-enter civil society.
Petraeus had previously employed this tactic in Iraq and was credited for bringing the country back from the brink of a civil war.
The success of this plan, however, has been debated. According to some analysts, it is not clear if this strategy has made Afghanistan any safer as violent attacks have continued. But international military officials claim that under this plan the attacks have not been as widespread or as intense as they would have otherwise been. The plan has boosted U.S. financial ties to the region; America is now spending $10 billion a month to fund the effort in Afghanistan.
In the transition ceremony in Kabul, Petraeus acknowledged that while progress has been made in southern Afghanistan, there is still much to be accomplished.
"Even as we note the hard fought progress of the past year and commence the transition process, we should be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead," he said, according to The Associated Press, adding that Afghan and coalition forces "are clearly engaged in a tough fight."
He continued by saying the battle against insurgents is made more difficult "when the enemy can exploit sanctuaries outside the country," taking a shot at Pakistan, a country that has long been suspected of allowing insurgents to take refuge in the lawless area of Waziristan.
"The progress you have made has not been without sacrifice. There have been tough fights, tough losses along the way, setbacks as well as successes," Petraeus said, as quoted by AP. He added that he was departing "encouraged by the progress, aware of the hard work that lies ahead and hopeful for the future."
Allen promised to press on the campaign his predecessor laid out, but warned there are plenty of challenges left ahead.
"It is my intention to maintain the momentum of this great campaign on which we have embarked. There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges."
Allen was promoted to a four-star general shortly before the transition ceremony.
The challenges may have already begun. With the U.S.’ increasing war-weary tone, violence has been on the increase in the region. A string of attacks on high-profiled Afghans have been carried out in the past few weeks, including the recent assassination of President Karzai’s half-brother as well as one of his close advisers, Jan Mohammed Khan. In fact, the ceremony in Kabul came just hours after security forces killed the last alleged attacker in Khan’s assassination.