JEFFREY BROWN: And next: Private contractors in Afghanistan come under fire from that country's president.
Judy Woodruff has the story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The new American commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, pointed Sunday to signs of hope.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, International Security Assistance Force: Late spring was when we started to see the operations in central Helmand Province truly were starting to improve security for the people -- an up-and-down process, to be sure, Taliban fighting back very hard, as we took away very important sanctuaries from -- from him. And now you can see it expanding over into Kandahar Province, again, another tough fight.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Petraeus played down U.S. disputes with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but an announcement from Kabul today raised new questions. A presidential spokesman said Karzai wants all private security companies to end operations in Afghanistan within four months. Karzai has said Afghan government forces should be doing the jobs now given to contractors. Private guards perform a wide range of essential tasks, from providing security for diplomats and military bases to safeguarding supply convoys for troops.
Some even assist with intelligence operations. Accounts vary on how many contractors are in Afghanistan, but the Associated Press quoted U.S. officials as saying, 52 security firms are currently licensed to operate there, plus some unlicensed outfits. They said 26,000 security contractors, most of them Afghan nationals, are working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and 19,000 of those work for the U.S. military. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley warned that meeting Karzai's four-month deadline will be -- quote -- "very challenging."
P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: We're in a war zone. The security requirements are significant. And, at the present time, that -- that requirement is being met by, in many cases, private security contractors. You know, over time, as the Afghan government's capabilities expand, the need for military and private contractors will be reduced. How fast that can be accomplished is the essence of our current strategy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Crowley said the U.S. will work closely with the Afghan government on a way forward.