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Gen David Petraeus replaced by US Marine Corps general credited with turning Iraq round

Gen David Petraeus handed over command of Nato forces in Afghanistan on Monday to a US Marine Corp general who is widely credited with taking the first step to turn the tide of battle in Iraq.

The most celebrated officer of his generation was replaced by Gen John Allen at a flag ceremony in Kabul. Gen Allen took up the post a critical juncture in which the success of the strategy to use more troops to combat the Taliban in critical area is disputed.

The scale of the challenge is unlikely to daunt Gen Allen, who played a key role in recognising that Iraqi tribal chiefs could be co-opted to fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“John Allen was at the genesis of the turnaround in Iraq,” said Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, the British deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq in 2006. “It was his conviction that a difficult problem could be looked at in a different way. He set the conditions, did the convincing of the US domestic audience that this was possible and provided a quality of leadership to bring it about.”

As Gen Petraeus leaves to become director of the CIA, he has said the coalition has arrested and even reversed the momentum of the Taliban in its southern heartlands around Kandahar and Helmand.

Tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and policemen have passed through basic training and joined the battlefield.

Relentless special forces raids have rounded up or killed hundreds of low and midlevel commanders, hobbling the insurgency, he has said.

However civilian deaths and attacks remain at record levels and insurgents have stepped up assassinations of prominent strongmen and politicians, which has rocked the government.

Western capitals are eager to pull back troops as they weary of the decade-long campaign, in a withdrawal defence officials have called “risky”.

Gen Petraeus told the handover ceremony: “We should be clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead.”

His departure to Washington is seen as making it easier for Barack Obama to press ahead with a withdrawal which is faster than many senior officers would wish.

Mr Obama has said all 33,000 of America’s surge troops will have left Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

Gen Allen served under Gen Petraeus in Iraq where he pioneered deals with Sunni leaders in Anbar province to turn their tribes against al Qaeda.

In a letter to the 140,000 troops now under his command, Gen Allen said they would “continue the momentum of our campaign by relentlessly pursuing the enemy.” The Taliban were “a resilient and determined, but overconfident enemy”, he said.

He warned: “Without question, tough challenges remain.” The Nato command has passed through four different generals in just two years. Gen Lamb said that Gen Allen shared the approach of Gen Stanley McChrystal and Gen Petraeus, his immediate predecessors. “You’ve absolutely had the dream team to deliver the change.”

This week Afghan police and soldiers began to assume control of seven areas at the start of a transition process which will see then take charge of nationwide security by the end of 2014.

On Wednesday, Lashkar Gah, the capital of British-garrisoned Helmand province, will begin handover.

Meanwhile the Taliban claimed the assassination of Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior adviser to the Afghan president, in a gun attack on his Kabul home.

The strongman and former governor of Uruzgan was a close tribal ally of Mr Karzai and died less than a week after the president’s brother, Ahmed Wali was shot in his Kandahar home.

“He was very close to the president. His death is as important as Ahmed Wali Karzai’s death,” an Afghan government official said.

Filed in: World News

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