- Associated Press - Saturday, July 3, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, called Saturday for unity in the civilian and military effort to turn back the Taliban, saying, “In this important endeavor, cooperation is not optional.”

In his first public comments since he arrived Friday night to assume command of the international military mission in Afghanistan, Petraeus said he would work to improve coordination between troops on the battlefield and civilians trying to bolster the Afghan government and improve the lives of the people.

His predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was fired last month for intemperate remarks that he and his aides made to Rolling Stone magazine about Obama administration officials, mostly on the civilian side.

“Civilian and military, Afghanistan and international, we are part of one team with one mission,” Petraeus told about 1,700 invited guests, including Afghan government and military and police officials gathered at the U.S. Embassy for a pre-Fourth of July celebration marking American independence. His message to the Afghans in the audience: “Your success is our success.”

Petraeus, widely credited with turning around the U.S. war effort in Iraq, is taking over the 130,000-member NATO-led international force at a time of rising violence and growing doubts in Washington and other allied capitals about the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency strategy, which Petraeus pioneered. June was the deadliest month for the allied force since the war began in October 2001 with 102 deaths, more than half of them Americans.

The general, who formally assumes the command at a ceremony Sunday, was spending time on Saturday receiving his first operational update from the NATO staff and in meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, ground commander Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez and the chief of the NATO training command, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell.

Underscoring the message of unity, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry called Petraeus a “great friend.” Eikenberry handed the general an access pass to the heavily guarded embassy across the street from NATO headquarters in Kabul.

“Welcome aboard. You are welcome at this embassy 24-7,” said Eikenberry, whose relationship with McChrystal was frosty.

In return, Petraeus said: “I feel like one of the team now. It’s a pleasure to be your Ranger buddy at this critical time.”

Eikenberry told the crowd that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan would not wane.

“We’ll keep at it. We’ll persevere,” Eikenberry said. “We’re committed for the long term.”

McChrystal was fired after telling Rolling Stone, among other things, that he felt “betrayed” by Eikenberry’s opposition last year to the general’s request for a substantial increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan because the ambassador had doubts about the reliability of Karzai. Eikenberry’s opposition to the troop increase, which Obama approved, was contained in diplomatic cables leaked in Washington, a move McChrystal suspected was aimed at protecting the ambassador if the war effort failed.

But Saturday’s messages of unity sought to turn the page on past tensions. The gathering was upbeat. A rock band played. Dignitaries sat in tents eating popcorn, hamburgers, fried chicken, cupcakes and ice cream. Tiny American flags lined the sidewalks of the U.S. Embassy compound, which was adorned in red-white-and-blue bunting.

The positive tone, however, was dampened by talk of Friday’s attack on a four-story house used by an American aid organization in the northern city of Kunduz and the accidental killing of civilians during a raid.

Taliban suicide attackers stormed the house, killing four people before dying in a five-hour gunbattle with Afghan security forces. The pre-dawn attack appeared part of a militant campaign against international development organizations at a time when the U.S. and its allies are trying to accelerate civilian aid efforts to turn back the Taliban.

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