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'Tough fighting' expected in Afghanistan: Petraeus

US forces in Afghanistan can expect "tough fighting" with Islamist insurgents in coming months which will extend beyond this year, top US commander David Petraeus said on Wednesday.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2009 14:04 IST

US forces in Afghanistan can expect "tough fighting" with Islamist insurgents in coming months which will extend beyond this year, top US commander David Petraeus said on Wednesday.

As US troops in the war-torn country get on the offensive "to take back from the Taliban areas that they have been able to control, there will be tough fighting," Petraeus said at a meeting with French journalists including AFP at the US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

"Certainly that tough fighting will not be concluded just this year. Certainly there will be tough periods beyond this year," he added.

Petraeus said he was always reluctant to attempt definite predictions on "how long various missions will take, because the enemy gets a vote."

The Taliban-led insurgency is now at its bloodiest level since 2001, when the hardliners were ousted in a US-led invasion, raising concern about new violence in the face of US troop reinforcements and ahead of presidential elections planned for August.

The United States' fresh strategy against the insurgents includes the ongoing deployment of 17,000 US troops, around 7,000 of whom are already in place.

Petraeus, who oversaw the troop "surge" in Iraq credited with significantly reducing violence there, said it was neither desirable or possible to replicate such a strategy in Afghanistan.

"You can't in Afghanistan live among the people the way we were able to live among the people in Iraq," he noted. "They don't want you, in this culture, the way people would welcome us in Iraq."

As such, diplomatic efforts must continue alongside military operations, Petraeus said, stressing it was the only way to help contain the increasingly growing insurgency.

"You sit down with local leaders, drink many cups of tea, discuss the plans and what they might want you to do to help them," he said. "In most cases, it's done by finding a small hilltop and building a small base there."

Petraeus said he approved of Pakistan's offensive against Taliban insurgents on its side of the border with Afghanistan, but assured that the United States was not providing direct combat assistance to Islamabad.

"We are not the source of it, this is a Pakistani operation," Petraeus insisted, as he noted US financial and material assistance.

Some 100,000 rounds of ammunition and four MI-17 cargo helicopters have been delivered, while more than 400 million dollars in US aid was sent to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by the fighting in the Swat valley.

Some 447 million dollars in direct US military assistance has also been pledged to Islamabad. But, according to Petraeus, "none of this is direct support in combat."

The battle on Pakistani soil "is their fight against extremism that they assess poses a threat against their very existence," petraeus said. "It's not them fighting our global war on terror."

On Iraq, the general said that there has been "very substantial progress made" even as "sensational attacks" continue. Noting that Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other militant groups still have an interest in waging chaos in the country, Petraeus admitted any progress "remains fragile and reversible."

Efforts to remove US combat forces from Iraqi cities by the end of June is "on track,"the general added.

By June 30 US troops must leave Iraq's cities, towns and villages as part of a landmark security accord between Washington and Baghdad that will see American forces leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

"Some coordinating elements are going to remain in large cities to ensure that if assistance of communication are needed, that can still be done," Petraeus said.