Petraeus: 2014 Afghan Victory Not "Sure" Thing

In a Monday interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," General David Petraeus, said he was encouraged by U.S. troops' recent progress in Afghanistan, but would not go so far as to say he was "confident" the Afghan army would be able to assume control from U.S. forces by NATO's 2014 deadline.

"I think-no commander ever is going to come out and say, 'I'm confident that we can do this,'" Petraeus told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a pre-taped interview. "I think that you say that you assess that this is-- you believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect and knowing how important it is-- that we have to do everything we can to increase the chances of that prospect."

"But again, I don't think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor," Petraeus continued. "And I wouldn't be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn't convey that."

Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, also responded to a recent ABC News/BBC/ARD/Washington Post poll indicating that Afghan citizens are losing faith in U.S. and NATO forces to improve regional conditions.

"We clearly have to continue to provide the message to the Afghan people about why we're here, and what it is that we want to do, not just for our own national objectives and coalition objectives, but also for the people of this country, and for the government of Afghanistan, to enable them, indeed, to secure and to govern themselves," Petraeus said.

The poll, which is based on a series of interviews with a national sample of 1,691 Afghan adults from Oct. 29-Nov. 13, 2010, shows Afghan attitudes turning increasingly negative toward the U.S.: 43 percent of Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States, down 8 points from last year to a new low, and only 32 percent rated the U.S. performance in Afghanistan positively.

Thirty-six percent expressed of Afghans surveyed expressed confidence in the U.S. and NATO to increase security and stability near their homes, down 12 points from last year and 31 points since 2006. One in four respondents credits the U.S. or its NATO allies with violence in the country.

But Petraeus said recent improvements in Afghanistan could have since affected national sentiment, and that conditions in the country were markedly better than they have been in the past. "It's been some time since there's been a serious attack here," Petraeus said. "This is not the Baghdad of 2007."

The military commander also said that while he was surprised by President Hamid Karzai's recent call for the United States to reduce military operations in the country and stop "the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life," he was not deterred by the criticism.

"I'm a military commander," Petraeus said. "I've got a military mission. [Karzai] is the leader of a sovereign country. He has a political foundation that he has to maintain. And we do need occasionally, I think, to walk a mile or a kilometer in his shoes and in these mountains to understand the challenge that he has."

Petraeus said, however, he would challenge the validity of a recent letter apparently released by the Taliban claiming to control more than 50 percent of Afghanistan.

"Well, my response to them would be, 'If you control so much of Afghanistan, why are all of your senior leaders outside the country and never set foot inside the country," Petraeus said.

"We believe that we have arrested the momentum that the Taliban achieved in recent years in many areas of the country," Petraeus continued. "Not all, but that we have reversed it in some important areas, including right here, in Kabul, which is home to one-sixth or one-fifth of the country."

Petraeus said it was "hard to say" how much of Afghanistan the Taliban controlled, and made no secret of the fact that "the Taliban is resilient," but emphasized that continued pursuit of the group was the only way to defeat it.

"This is actually true of the overall fight against al Qaeda and trans-national extremists, that as you put pressure on them in one location, they'll seek safe haven sanctuaries in other areas," Petraeus said. "So you do have to continue to pursue them. But they have less capability."

In terms of what the end of American commitment in Afghanistan would look like, Petraeus emphasized the importance of making sure the nation could take on tasks that Americans had previously performed, and "secure and govern itself."

"It's one that incrementally demonstrates the ability to do that, not suddenly," the general continued. "Between the summer of 2011 and the end of 2014 there will be, again, a series of transitions, starting most likely at districts, not in overall provinces."

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.