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Petraeus leaves legacy of change

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011

WASHINGTON -- As Gen. David Petraeus shifts from the Afghan battlefield to run the CIA, he leaves behind tactical and spycraft changes that spurred more killings and captures of Afghan terrorists while reducing attacks to their lowest level in years, senior U.S. officials in Afghanistan said.

From April to July this year, officials said, 2,832 special operations raids led to the capture of 2,941 insurgents and the killings of 834. That's twice the number captured or killed during the same period a year ago, when special operations forces captured more than 1,350 insurgents and killed 1,031 in about the same number of raids, according to figures shared with The Associated Press by NATO headquarters.

No one claims the latest numbers guarantee long-term success in keeping the anti-government Taliban factions from reconstituting or in driving mid-level Taliban to the negotiating table. Petraeus warned as he left his post that the gains are fragile, as shown by a series of recent high-profile Taliban assassinations and attacks.

But the system Petraeus helped institutionalize -- a fusion of intelligence, U.S. law enforcement and special operations hunter-killer teams -- is operating at a higher pace and level of synchronization than in any previous year, and is expected to remain a key component, even as conventional forces draw down. Petraeus shares credit for what officials call a turnaround in Afghanistan with his predecessor, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

The continued raids are intended to pressure mid- and lower-level Taliban to reintegrate with Afghan society, and buy time for the Afghans to step into the breach left by departing U.S. troops, senior administration officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss strategic matters.

In his last weeks in command in Afghanistan, Petraeus pointed out that the military's increased kill-and-capture pressure on the Taliban had driven enemy-initiated violent attacks down 14 percent lower this July than last July.

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