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The current 12- to 18-month campaign is seeking to retake the initiative from the insurgents.

Gen. Petraeus said the new strategy unveiled in 2009 of more troops, civilian resources and greater international involvement “can help turn the tide over time, but we must manage expectations as we continue the buildup in our forces,” the four-star general said.

“Progress will be incremental and difficult,” he said.

He also warned that the growing stability in Iraq remains “fragile” despite significant gains. Fundamental issues such as the distribution of political power and resources are unsettled, and the developing state faces “numerous challenges,” Gen. Petraeus said.

Al Qaeda has its main operating bases in the ungoverned regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and while “under pressure” it continues to threaten the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan, he said.

The prospect of “significant instability” in Pakistan poses a serious threat, a result of the country being a “a critical strategic foothold for al Qaeda and … important to the organization’s efforts to rally supporters worldwide.”