Pentagon reports Taliban attacks up during Afghan fighting season

WASHINGTON Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:07am IST

Afghan security personnel and NATO troops inspect the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul November 21, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/Files

Afghan security personnel and NATO troops inspect the site of a suicide bomb attack in Kabul November 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attacks by Taliban insurgents rose slightly during the main part of the Afghan fighting season this year as some U.S. forces withdrew and the transition to a lead role for Afghan security forces picked up pace, according to a Pentagon report released on Monday.

The report to Congress downplayed the rise in violence, saying the key measure was a dramatic increase in security in the country's main cities. While acknowledging the Taliban can still carry out attacks at the same levels as last year, the report said the greatest threats to stability were elsewhere.

"The insurgency's safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan," said the semi-annual Pentagon progress report on Afghanistan.

U.S. officials, briefing reporters on the document, said training of Afghan military and police forces was on track for them to take the lead security role nationwide by next summer.

The strategy guiding international forces calls for Afghans to take the security lead next year and full security responsibility by the end of 2014, when most foreign combat forces are due to withdraw.

About 76 percent of the population now lives in areas where Afghan police and troops have the lead role for security, the report said. Planning is under way to transfer additional parts of the country to Afghan security leadership.

So far, very few Afghan units are fully independent from international forces. While some units are capable of carrying out independent operations, they often have to rely on the NATO-led coalition for air power, intelligence and other specialized skills.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said only "a very small percentage" of Afghan units are capable of fully independent operations at this point, "but that's all we would expect right now."

While progress toward full independence is "incremental," the official said, "In terms of the operations that they have to carry out day to day, (they) may be doing those independently all the time."

The report attributed the rise in Taliban attacks between April and September to the increased pace of combat and to a poor, shortened poppy harvest, which freed low-level insurgents to begin the fighting season early.

MORE ATTACKS IN RURAL AREAS

Taliban-launched attacks rose by 1 percent between April and September compared with 2011, the report said. But the increased violence took place mainly in rural areas, with security "dramatically improved" in all but one of the country's five most populous districts, the report said.

Overall since the start of the year, Taliban attacks were down 3 percent, the report said. During that period they fell 22 percent in Kabul compared to 2011, 62 percent in Kandahar, 13 percent in Heart and 88 percent in Mazar-e-Sharif. They were up 2 percent in Kunduz.

The senior defense official said violence in Afghanistan remained higher than it was in 2009, before the United States sent in 33,000 additional troops to try to counter Taliban advances. Those 33,000 troops withdrew over the course of the year and U.S. forces are now back to the 2009 level of 66,000.

"Even though the violence remains high, the fact that it's in the less populated areas shows that it's less effective violence, less effective in terms of altering the view of people in Afghanistan as to where their future lies, whether it lies with the Taliban or with the government," the senior U.S. defense official said.

"If you travel around any of the cities in Afghanistan, particularly, say, Kandahar city, now as opposed to 2009, it's a completely different experience," the official said.

Several security issues remained challenging for international forces, especially the increasing number of attacks on foreign troops by members of the Afghan military, the report said.

"The rise in insider attacks has the potential to adversely affect the coalition's political landscape," it said.

The senior defense official said international and Afghan forces had been able to prevent the Taliban from regaining any significant territorial control during the fighting season.

As in last year, the Taliban has been urging its forces, particularly the leaders, to stay the winter in Afghanistan and step up the fight to make up for their inability to regain lost ground, the official said.

"While they are giving that message to their troops, to their forces, we don't see that actually happening on the ground," the official said.

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Jackie Frank and Christopher Wilson)

FILED UNDER:
Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Republic Day

Reuters Showcase

RK Laxman Dead

RK Laxman Dead

'Common Man' cartoonist RK Laxman dead at 93  Full Article 

Banking Revolution

Banking Revolution

India turns to corner shops, mobile phones for banking revolution.  Full Article 

Nuclear Group

Nuclear Group

China urges India to take steps to satisfy standards of NSG  Full Article 

Gold Market

Gold Market

Chinese gold demand holds up ahead of holiday, Indian buying weak  Full Article 

India-U.S. Relations

India-U.S. Relations

Column - U.S. and India should join to balance China's rise  Full Article 

Padma Bhushan

Padma Bhushan

India honours Bill Gates with civilian award  Full Article 

Fashionable Modi

Fashionable Modi

When Modi met Obama, his name was all over - his suit  Full Article 

New Greek PM

New Greek PM

Greek leftist Tsipras sworn in as PM to fight bailout terms  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Venus fireworks illuminate Australia Day  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage