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Petraeus hands off command in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Gen. David Petraeus, whose signature counterinsurgency strategy has yet to deliver a safer Afghanistan and push the Taliban to reconcile with the country's Western-allied government, handed over command of international forces here yesterday.

As he heads for his new job as director of the CIA, he gave up the post to Marine Gen. John Allen, known for helping to turn Sunni insurgents against al-Qaida in Iraq. Allen will be tasked with overseeing the start of the American troop withdrawal from the country after a decade-long war.

Allen, who was promoted to a fourth star as he took command of about 130,000 U.S. and NATO troops, has said he supports President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw a third of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan by next year. But he told a Senate hearing last month that the schedule set by Obama was more aggressive than the military had anticipated. Obama did not set a minimum number of troops to be pulled out this month, but required only that 10,000 be gone by the end of the year and that another 23,000 be back home by September 2012.

Allen said the drawdown of U.S. forces that started earlier this month does not mean that international forces are easing up in their campaign to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

"It is my intention to maintain the momentum of the campaign," Allen said at the handover ceremony. He also acknowledged that the fight won't be easy. "There will be tough days ahead. I have no illusions about the challenges," he said.

Before taking over from Petraeus, Allen had been serving as the deputy commander at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. He is best known for his role in the stewardship of the Anbar Awakening -- the ultimately successful campaign by U.S. forces in western Iraq to encourage Sunni tribesmen to turn against al-Qaida and align with American forces.

In the field, a bomb killed three international service members in the east Monday and an explosion in the south killed one service member, NATO said.

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