The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, says he sees progress in the war but cautioned that the fight against the Taliban is an "up and down process."
In an interview aired Sunday on NBC (Meet the Press), General Petraeus said the goal is to defeat the Taliban and prevent the country from again becoming a sanctuary for transnational extremists.
He noted that U.S. President Barack Obama's goal of initiating a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 is contingent on the level of security achieved in the country.
President Obama has set July 2011 as the date when U.S. forces will begin leaving Afghanistan. Petraeus said he will give the president his best professional military advice and would not hesitate to tell him if the date was unrealistic.
Petraeus also said that reconciliation in Afghanistan will ultimately involve the government sitting down with some elements of the Taliban and members of other insurgent groups.
General Petraeus assumed command of military operations in Afghanistan at a time when analysts note that support for the nine-year war is fading and death tolls are rising. He is expected to give the U.S. Congress an assessment of the war's progress in December.
According to the website icasualties.org, the total number of foreign troops killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 has topped 2,000, including 1,226 Americans.
Civilians deaths have also been on the rise. In a report issued last week, the United Nations said the number of civilians killed or wounded in the conflict rose 31 percent during the first half of this year; those figures include nearly 1,300 deaths and 2,000 wounded