Gen. David Petraeus, speaking before about 800 people at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council, acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan has been spiraling downward and is likely to get worse before it gets better.
In a speech that also touched on issues ranging from the nuclear threat in Iraq to pirates off Somalia, Petraeus said more resources are needed in Afghanistan, both military and especially civil to help build a stable government there.
"The secretary of defense and I are among the biggest champions with members of Congress for increasing the resourcing for the State Department and the Agency for International Development," he said.
The U.S.-led invasion of Aghanistan ousted the Islamist Taliban regime in 2001, but the militant movement has regained control of large swaths of the country. U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to reverse the gains.
Petraeus blamed the problems on a resilient "syndicate of extremists," financing from the drug trade, safe havens in Pakistan and frustration with the slow development of the country's fledgling government.
"We must help our Afghan partners create the breathing space that'll allow the people to stand up for themselves as the Iraqi people did during the awakening movements there," he said. "That also will allow the government to begin working for its people and begin providing essential services, instead of just struggling to survive."
Last month, President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to bolster the record 38,000 American forces already in Afghanistan, a likely down payment on the request by ground commanders to double the U.S. force to 60,000.
But Petraeus said a large military surge like the one in Iraq would not work in Afghanistan because there is not enough infrastructure on the ground to handle one, and because it is imperative that Afghans not view coalition forces as conquerors.