WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2009 – The commander of U.S. Central Command said tough fighting lies ahead in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other extremists have expanded their strength and influence, but he cautioned that success there demands more than battlefield victories.

With violence reaching peak levels this summer, reversing enemy security gains will require sustained commitment from U.S. and multinational forces, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the American Legion in Louisville, Ky., yesterday.

“Despite important achievements in various areas, given the deterioration in the security situation, an enormous amount of hard work and tough fighting lie ahead in Afghanistan,” Petraeus said in his prepared remarks.

Nearly eight years into the war in Afghanistan, Petraeus said the primary objective remains clear: to ensure that transnational extremists such as al-Qaida are not able to re-establish the sanctuaries they had prior to the 9/11 attacks. But more than just killing or capturing terrorists and extremists, he added, the mission requires a counterinsurgency campaign akin to the strategy he oversaw as the top U.S. commander in Iraq — an effort that placed greater focus on securing the population.

“And that is exactly what our troopers, along with their Afghan, NATO and other international partners, are intent on executing,” he said. About 62,000 American and 38,000 allied forces are deployed to Afghanistan.

Petraeus gave a snapshot of the counterinsurgency tactics that troops are carrying out: rebuilding communities recently cleared of insurgents, developing Afghan security forces, flipping “reconcilable” insurgent members into allies and stemming the flow of illegal drugs.

“They are also working with our civilian partners in helping to foster the growth of Afghan governance so it can achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the people,” he added. “Our troopers’ hard work has, despite the increase in violence, paid dividends in a number of areas.”

Multinational troops last week aided Afghan security forces in protecting some 6,000 polling stations during the country’s national election, the first such balloting in Afghanistan in 30 years. The polling results are expected to be announced by Sept. 17, defense officials said.

“Despite widespread Taliban threats and numerous attacks, millions of Afghan citizens stepped forward to vote for their next president and for provincial councils,” Petraeus said.

Citing counterinsurgency successes since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Petraeus highlighted a 600 percent increase in the number of students — matched by a seven-fold increase in trained teachers — at thousands of newly constructed schools, and other achievements in building roads, hospitals and the nation’s physical and political infrastructure.

At the same time, however, Petraeus said the Taliban and other elements of the so-called extremist syndicate have expanded their strength and influence, demanding a sustained push from those engaged in counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.

“Reversing the downward trend in security in particular will require sustained, substantial commitment from all involved,” he said.

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