MARJA, Afghanistan — The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan crisscrossed the country on Saturday, making Christmas visits to coalition troops at some of the main battlefronts in a show of appreciation and support in the 10th year of the war against the Taliban.
Gen. David Petraeus started his visits by traveling in a C-130 cargo plane from the capital, Kabul, to the northern province of Kunduz, telling troops with the U.S. Army's 1-87, 10th Mountain Division, that on Christmas Day there was "no place that (he) would rather be than here" where the "focus of our effort" was.
The northern part of the country has seen increased fighting, with the Taliban stepping up its attacks as NATO focuses its sights on the militant movement's southern strongholds. Petraeus was briefed on the situation in the region by German Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, the commander of NATO's northern regional command.
In eastern Afghanistan, where NATO forces are focused on trying to prevent insurgents from slipping in from neighboring Pakistan, members of one U.S. platoon spent their Christmas as they do almost every other day — in a firefight with insurgents. Taliban fighters on nearby hills opened fire twice during the day on the platoon's Combat Outpost Badel, sparking short gunbattles as the U.S. soldiers returned fire. There were no American casualties. Badel and other such front-line posts come under similar attacks nearly daily.
Petraeus' visits Saturday also took him to the region of one of the main NATO offensives in the south this year— the Taliban stronghold of Marja in Helmand province, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting recently with the Taliban.
He spoke to the Marines on the base, praising them for the improvements in the area, which still sees Taliban attacks.
Petraeus said the progress that has been made in Marja and in other areas helped pave the way for the unanimity achieved at a November NATO summit in Lisbon, where member states committed to Afghanistan until 2014.
Before Marja, Petraeus stopped in the western province of Farah, where the Italian army's 7th Alpini is stationed. The visit coincided with one by Italian Gen. Vincenzo Camporini.