- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan — The outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Monday that the focus of the war will shift from Taliban strongholds in the south to the porous eastern border with Pakistan where al Qaeda factions and others hold sway.

On his last Fourth of July in uniform before becoming the new CIA director, Gen. David H. Petraeus said more special forces, intelligence, air power and possibly some ground troops will be moved probably by fall to battle insurgents along the mostly rugged mountainous border with Pakistan.

The U.S.-led coalition has focused much of its troop strength, resources and attention on Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, but the main effort of the war soon will turn eastward, he said. The east is home to the Afghan Taliban hotbeds and other groups such as al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“It’s a shift of intelligence assets. It’s a shift of armed and lift helicopters and perhaps the shift of some relatively small coalition forces on the ground and substantial Afghan forces on the ground,” he told reporters after attending two re-enlistment ceremonies.

“The intent has always been that as the southwest and south are solidified, that these assets would focus on the east. It’s not to say that we’re not doing it now.”

Gen. Petraeus‘ visit to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, was one of the last of his command in Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus, who recently was confirmed as the next CIA director, will be replaced by Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen at a ceremony scheduled for July 18.

Gen. Petraeus leaves just as the United States begins a 15-month drawdown of some 33,000 troops by September 2012. He and other military officials had recommended that President Obama adopt a longer timeline, one that would extend through next year’s fighting season.

“I think it’s probably time to stop second-guessing the decision that only the president can make. Only he has the full range of issues, considerations that he has to deal with,” Gen. Petraeus said, declining to discuss the differing recommendations.

“That decision has been made. It is now the job of military commanders and troopers to get on with it.”

On Sunday, three U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan criticized the pace of withdrawal and expressed concerns that it may leave NATO with too few troops to deal a decisive blow to the insurgency.

“I believe that the planned drawdown is an unnecessary risk,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Separately, a British soldier who is part of the NATO-led international force fighting in southern Afghanistan went missing in the country’s restive south and an extensive operation is under way to find him, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.