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‘No rapid Afghan pullout’

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces, began a campaign on Sunday to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the American-led coalition can still succeed here despite months of setbacks, saying he had not come to Afghanistan to preside over a “graceful exit.”

world Updated: Aug 16, 2010 23:56 IST

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces, began a campaign on Sunday to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the American-led coalition can still succeed here despite months of setbacks, saying he had not come to Afghanistan to preside over a “graceful exit.”

In an hourlong interview with The New York Times, the general argued against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011, the date set by President Obama to begin at least a gradual reduction of the 100,000 troops on the ground. General Petraeus said that it was only in the last few weeks that the war plan had been fine-tuned and given the resources that it required. “For the first time,” he said, “we will have what we have been working to put in place for the last year and a half.”

In another in a series of interviews, on NBC’s Meet the Press, General Petraeus even appeared to leave open the possibility that he would recommend against any withdrawal of American forces next summer.

“Certainly, yes,” he said when the show’s host, David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding, he might tell the president that a drawdown should be delayed. “The president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice.”

The statement offered a preview of what promised to be an intense political battle over the future of the American-led war in Afghanistan, which has deteriorated on the ground and turned unpopular at home. Already, some Democrats in Congress are pushing for steep withdrawals early on, while supporters of the war say that a rapid draw-down could endanger the Afghan mission altogether.

General Petraeus, in his interview with The Times, said American and NATO troops were making progress on a number of fronts, including routing Taliban insurgents from their sanctuaries, reforming the Afghan government and preparing Afghan soldiers to fight on their own.

General Petraeus, who took over last month after Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was fired for making disparaging remarks about civilian leaders, said he believed that he would be given the time and matériel necessary to prevail here. He expressed that confidence despite the fact that nearly every phase of the war is going badly — and even though some inside the Obama administration have turned against it.

“The president didn’t send me over here to seek a graceful exit,” General Petraeus said at the NATO headquarters in downtown Kabul. “My marching orders are to do all that is humanly possible to help us achieve our objectives.” NYT