US General David Petraeus handed over command of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan to General John Allen today, transferring responsibility for the nearly 10-year war as Kabul’s international allies draw up exit plans from the conflict.
Gen Petraeus stepped down after a mixed one-year stint in charge of the more than 140,000 international troops in the country.
He was the architect of the counter-insurgency strategy which aimed to bring peace through an emphasis on decisive strikes against known insurgents and protecting the local population.
But as he left, it was unclear if either strategy had made Afghanistan safer. Violent attacks have continued, though international military officials argue they are not as widespread or as intense as they would have been otherwise.
Gen Allen, who officially took command at a ceremony in the capital, Kabul, this morning, said the drawdown of US forces which started earlier this month and the transition of some areas to Afghan control this week does not mean that international forces are easing up in their campaign to defeat the Taliban insurgency.
“It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign,” he said, adding that he does not expect the fight to be easy.
“There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges ahead,” said Gen Allen, who was promoted to a four-star general shortly before the handover ceremony.
Gen Petraeus, who is retiring from the military to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and American officials in the US have trumpeted success in reclaiming Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan and training Afghan security forces as signs that they are finally making progress toward peace in Afghanistan.
But violent attacks have continued, including a number of high-profile assaults and assassinations in recent weeks.
This morning, a bomb killed three international service members in the east, Nato said in a statement. It did not provide nationalities or further details. Most of the troops in the east are American.
At least 37 international forces have been killed so far this month in Afghanistan.
And the handover ceremony came just hours after security forces in the capital killed the final attacker in the assassination of a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, in which two gunmen shot Karzai adviser Jan Mohammed Khan and a politician he was meeting with in his house.
The deaths were announced late last night and one attacker was quickly killed, but fighting continued inside the house until early this morning as police tried to take out the remaining assailant who had barricaded himself in the house, police said. One police officer was killed, the Interior Ministry said.
The shooting and small explosions finally ended about 3am local time and reporters on the scene saw a body – presumably that of the final attacker - dragged out of the house on a plastic sheet.
Afghan officials had originally said the attackers were wearing suicide vests but said today that this was incorrect and they were armed only with guns and hand grenades.