PRINCETON, N.J. — The U.S. commander overseeing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan said Saturday that the military is on pace in its plans to shift away from a combat mission in Iraq, but he warned that casualties will worsen in Afghanistan.
Army Gen. David Petraeus said in a speech at Princeton University that after more than eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, the U.S. finally is getting enough troops, diplomats and organizational structure to be able to keep extremist groups from taking over again there.
"We've gotten the inputs right, now we are embarking on what's going to be the output," he said. "The reality is it's going to be hard, it's going to be hard all the time. We're going to have tough losses."
Petraeus, who was the top commander in Iraq before becoming head of the U.S. Central Command in October 2008, said the United States has done more than commit more resources to Afghanistan. It's also changed big ideas about how to handle the war, he said.
One key, he said, is recognizing the Afghan people as part of the terrain of war.
Last year, for example, the military cut back on use of air power as civilian casualties piled up. He said that tactical decision was made because the Taliban used the civilian deaths as propaganda. He said the policy change shifted that dynamic.
"We're going to be able to beat the enemy around the head with civilian casualties that he is causing," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said some of the approaches to Afghanistan come from Iraq, where he commanded the troop surge and where strategies were tested. Despite growing political problems there, the violence is down and the United States is on course to shift from a combat mission to one where the military will provide support and advice.
Petraeus was in Princeton to receive the Madison Medal, the highest award given by the graduate school there. He earned a master's degree from Princeton in 1985 and a Ph.D. in 1987.