msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/1/2010 11:06:46 AM ET 2010-07-01T15:06:46

Gen. David Petraeus, NATO's newly appointed commander of Afghanistan, sought to reassure allies Thursday that the war against the Taliban was going well despite rising military casualties and problems regaining control over key parts of the country.

Speaking to NATO alliance officials in Brussels, Petraeus said there would be no change in the counterinsurgency strategy implemented by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was relieved of his command last week by President Barack Obama.

But he said the rules of engagement, designed to limit civilian casualties and improve support for U.S. and NATO forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, would be examined to improve their efficiency.

"There has been tough fighting and tough casualties ... but we are determined to achieve progress in coming months," Petraeus said.

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Petraeus, whose appointment was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, said the emphasis on reducing civilian casualties would remain a priority.

"In counterinsurgency, the human terrain is the decisive terrain, and you must do everything possible to reduce civilian casualties ... in the course of military operations," he said.

He added there was no intention of changing the rules of engagement but the alliance would look "very hard at how the rules are implemented and ensure that there is even implementation across all units."

Analysts say existing battlefield tactics have been implemented differently in various parts of the country, sometimes in response to different tactical situations and occasionally due to misinterpretation of their intent by commanders on the ground. Some regional commands have, for example, totally banned night raids, while others still allow them.

Support from allies
Officials said Petraeus met with Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and addressed the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top decision-making body. He was expected to leave for Afghanistan immediately after the briefing.

U.S. troops account for two-thirds of the 122,000-strong international force in Afghanistan, while the allies make up the rest. Petraeus, now the top U.S. general, is also the commander of the entire NATO force.

Some diplomats in NATO have complained that their governments were not consulted by Washington prior to the change of command, even though the allies account for a third of the NATO contingent and nearly 40 percent of the military casualties.

Fogh Rasmussen initially expressed support for McChrystal after the remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine, only to backtrack the following day and support Obama's decision to replace him with Petraeus.

"This has been a change of command, not a change of strategy," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after the meeting on Thursday. "General Petraeus has our full support."

McChrystal's sacking came amid growing disillusionment with the war in Europe, and a spate of bad news from the battlefields. Allied deaths have doubled in the first six months of this year, with June the deadliest month on record with at least 102 deaths among international service members.

Meanwhile, a widely touted offensive aimed at retaking control of Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan, has been repeatedly delayed. An earlier campaign to reassert government control in the market town of Marjah in the southwestern Helmand province, proved inconclusive.

NATO's plans to train and gradually hand over responsibility to the growing Afghan army and police forces have also run into trouble, hobbled by a lack of trainers. A report by the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan has found that the ability of Afghan security forces to fight on their own has been overestimated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Gen. Petraeus popularity to be tested on new front

  1. Transcript of: Gen. Petraeus popularity to be tested on new front

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And about the new man in charge, General David Petraeus , like the man he replaces, has four stars. He's 57 years old. He's been running US Central Command after leading the 101st Airborne into Iraq . He was commander there for at least a year. He's a graduate of West Point , Princeton PhD . Prostate cancer survivor. He married the daughter of his West Point superintendent. Father of two, including a newly commissioned Army officer. We've had several opportunities to see the general's hands-on style up close in Iraq . What does he now mean to the war effort in Afghanistan ? Let's look at that question

    from two fronts: Jim Miklaszewski on post at the Pentagon and our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in Afghanistan for us tonight. Jim , starting with you, we've already heard the Republicans on the Hill praising this. That's the political side. He's probably the most celebrated active duty officer. He's been called a celebrity general. How about the military?

    JIM MIKLASZEWSKI reporting: Well, you know, the military is very high on David Petraeus , and there should be no slowdown or hitch in the Afghanistan strategy. And, in fact, even before this McChrystal flap, White House and Pentagon officials were going in -- growing increasingly concerned that as the war in Afghanistan bogged down, America 's patience, both on Capitol Hill and out there in the public, was growing increasingly thin, and that the US strategy was running out of time . They're hoping that by enacting this stunning change in leadership, by putting somebody like General Petraeus in charge, the one who engineered that successful surge operation in Iraq , that it could buy them some badly needed

    time. Brian: And Richard Engel , to you in Kabul . This had been called the one name the president could have reached into the bag and grabbed to save this crisis and stop it. What about -- on behalf of the 90,000 American families with a loved one over there -- what about the effect on the war effort ?

    WILLIAMS: The effect on the troops immediately probably won't change very much. If anything, this could boost the soldiers' morale. There is a sense that he's a -- someone who has success. Soldiers like success. General Petraeus is a famous character, and soldiers here will be pleased that the White House is sending their best man for the job. This is a very risky decision for General Petraeus , however. What he had in Iraq is not the same situation he faces here. There -- the two wars are not comparable at all. So just because he was able to do it in Iraq doesn't mean he'll able to do it here. He's putting his reputation on the line.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Richard Engel in Afghanistan . Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon , part of our team covering this lead story tonight. Gentlemen, thanks.

    WILLIAMS:

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