The general tapped to take over command for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan prepared war-weary lawmakers on Tuesday for a further escalation in violence, playing down hopes for a swift turnaround in fortunes after nine years of war. This June has already been the deadliest month for the U.S.-dominated force since the insurgency started in 2001.
Senate confirmation appeared assured for General David Petraeus, who became one of the U.S. military's biggest stars after helping turn around the war in Iraq.
President Barack Obama fired the previous commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, last week after he and his aides were quoted disparaging the president and other top civilian advisers in an article in Rolling Stones magazine. The president named Gen. Petraeus to take over the war effort in Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, has become unpopular with the U.S. public, but Gen. Petraeus used Tuesday's confirmation hearing to play down any quick turnaround hopes.
He acknowledged limitations in training Afghan forces and in building up local governance in the face of what he called an "industrial strength insurgency."
"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," Gen. Petraeus said in prepared remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Helping to train and equip host nation forces in the midst of an insurgency is akin to building an advanced aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at. There is nothing easy about it. U.S. General David Petraeus
"As we take away the enemy's safe havens and reduce the enemy's freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back."
Gen. Petraeus called the security situation "tenuous" and said the Taliban insurgency remained resilient and confident it could outlast the United States and its allies.
In his prepared testimony, Gen. Petraeus said he would review how the war was being waged, including rules of engagement that some say put U.S. troops at unnecessary risk in an effort to protect Afghan civilians, a potentially controversial move.
"I am keenly aware of concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue," Gen. Petraeus said.
But Gen. Petraeus made clear he supported Mr. Obama's underlying war strategy, including the goal of beginning a transition of authority to Afghan security forces and a gradual troop drawdown in July 2011.
Gen. Petraeus stressed that any troop drawdown would be based on security conditions on the ground and limited to the 30,000 "surge" forces which Mr. Obama agreed to send in December as part of a revised strategy that put a focus on securing population centers, chief among them the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar.
Gen. Petraeus acknowledged the "hugely challenging" task of building up Afghan security forces to take over for U.S. and NATO troops.
"Helping to train and equip host nation forces in the midst of an insurgency is akin to building an advanced aircraft while it is in flight, while it is being designed, and while it is being shot at. There is nothing easy about it," he said.
As if to illustrate his point, a UN vehicle was shot up at a busy traffic circle in Afghanistan's capital Tuesday, and at least one person was wounded, witnesses said.
The windows were shattered and blood was spattered inside the white pickup truck, with a blue U.N. logo painted on the side. The attack came at a time of heavy traffic around Massoud circle, an intersection near the U.S. Embassy and an American military base.
Separately, three Afghan soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded since Monday morning in bomb explosions across the country, according to the Ministry of Defense. No other details were provided.
The Ministry of Interior reported that a private security guard was killed when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Sayd Abad district of Wardak province, west of Kabul, and two civilians were killed when their motorbike hit a roadside bomb in the Pusht Rod district of Farah province in the west.
In the south, two security guards were killed and three were injured in an explosion in the Maizan district of Zabul province, said Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Also in Zabul, six security guards were killed and five others were injured in a three-hour gunbattle with insurgents, Rasoolyar said. In neighboring Kandahar, two local men were killed by a roadside bomb in Khakrez district, according to Zulmai Ayubi, spokesman for the provincial governor.
And in an endnote to the change of command in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal told the Army on Monday that he will retire.
Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said Gen. McChrystal, 55, notified the service of his plans. The general submitted formal retirement papers, but it is not clear when he will leave the service because the process usually take a few months.
The Army has been Gen. McChrystal's only career.
Gen. McChrystal was promoted to the selective and coveted rank of four-star general last year. It is not clear whether Gen. McChrystal will be able to retain that rank in retirement. Under Army rules, generals need to serve three years as a four-star officer to retain that rank, with its prestige and retirement benefits.
With files from AP