Can Allen do better than Petraeus in Afghanistan?
New commander of Western forces knows he faces a tough task fighting Taliban as troops withdraw
American General John Allen has taken over from David Petraeus as commander of the allied forces in Afghanistan but has admitted that he faces a "tough" task in the region.
With Petraeus leaving to take over as head of the CIA a year after he was parachuted in to replace Stanley McChrystal, Allen becomes the third leader of the military operation in just 13 months. He is also the fifth consecutive American general to oversee the ISAF forces in Afghanistan since early 2007.
Unfortunately for the new man, his arrival coincides with an upsurge in Taliban attacks and the assassination of two of Afghan president Hamid Karzai's closest allies. Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was killed by his bodyguards on Tuesday and hours before the handover ceremony in Kabul another senior adviser, Jan Mohammed Khan, was murdered in the Afghan capital.
This morning Nato also announced that a bomb had killed three international service members in the east of the country.
"It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign," said Allen, who was promoted to four-star general this morning. But he added: "There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges."
Allen, who comes from Virginia, is a marine with 35 years' service. He rose steadily through the ranks in the 1980s and 1990s and between 2006 and 2008 served as deputy commanding general of the allied forces in western Iraq. After returning to the States he became deputy commander of US Central Command, serving under Petraeus until he took over in Afghanistan.
Like Petraeus, Allen has a reputation for being a diplomat as well as a soldier. In Iraq he brokered tribal alliances that helped bring a relative peace to the region.
But Afghanistan has become something of a graveyard for military reputations. Petraeus was seen as a miracle worker when he took over but despite some success against the Taliban after drafting in 30,000 extra troops and making progress with training the Afghan security services, he has failed to wipe out insurgency or make the country any safer. And he has come in for some heavy criticism.
The man in the hot seat before that was Stanley McChrystal, who was unceremoniously removed from his post after mocking the Obama admisitation in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
Now Allen must try to negotiate the politics of Afghanistan and bring peace to the region while at the same time overseeing preparations for the withdrawal of Western forces by 2014. As he says, it will be "tough". ·
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