Page last updated at 21:05 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 22:05 UK

US 'deadline' for Afghan results

David Petraeus
Gen Petraeus refused to be drawn on whether more troops were to be sent

The head of US Central Command, Gen David Petraeus, has said international forces have about a year to prove their strategy in Afghanistan can succeed.

In an interview with the BBC, Gen Petraeus acknowledged there was a need to show progress before the November 2010 US Congressional elections.

He also warned that conditions might get worse before they got any better.

The general's comments came as millions of Afghans voted in elections despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt them.

The Afghan authorities and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) mounted a huge security operation, particularly in the capital, Kabul, where there were minor attacks.

'Industrial-strength insurgency'

With public support eroding in many Nato countries, Gen Petraeus acknowledged that international forces in Afghanistan had endured some "tough months", particularly in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in the east.

"There is no question that this has been a difficult period. Some of that, we have to understand, clearly is result of us going on the offensive," he told the BBC's Newsnight programme.

There has to be a development of governance that is seen as worthy of support by the people
Gen David Petraeus
US Central Command

"The enemy, as is customary, is fighting back to try to hang onto those areas that mean so much," he added.

Gen Petraeus said people who doubted whether the war in Afghanistan was winnable should remember why it was being waged.

"When Afghanistan was a sanctuary for al-Qaida and other transnational extremists we saw what they did. That is a development that we have to prevent," he said. "That's why President Obama has identified this as a war of necessity, not a war of choice."

Gen Petraeus refused to be drawn on whether more troops were likely to be sent to Afghanistan by the US and other Nato member states, saying that it was ultimately a decision for politicians.

As to post-election strategy in Afghanistan, he said it would have to involve a focus on better governance and political reconciliation.

US marine patrols in Helmand
Gen Petraeus said international forces had endured some "tough months"

"There has to be a development of governance that is seen as worthy of support by the people. There will be very substantial local components, traditional tribal and social organising mechanisms that will then mesh at some point with national structures that come out to join them," he explained.

"Those national structures have to earn the support of the people by being seen to improve the lot in life of the Afghan people."

Whoever won Thursday's elections, he said, had "significant work to do" to combat corruption and to develop strong and effective governance in a country in which human capital was limited.

"This will require sustained, substantial commitment," he added.

The general also said it would be impossible for international forces to kill or capture their way out of "an industrial-strength insurgency", and that there would have to be talks with insurgents at a local level, though probably not at this stage with senior Taliban leaders.

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