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Pentagon report sees 'fragile' gains in Afghanistan

A report to Congress says the 30,000 additional troops sent last year have 'arrested the momentum of the insurgency' in much of Afghanistan.

April 30, 2011|By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration's injection of 30,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan in the last year has produced "tangible progress," a new Pentagon report concludes, but it warns that a renewed Taliban offensive is expected as weather warms and the traditional fighting season takes hold.

Over the last six months, the U.S.-led multinational force and its Afghan allies have "broadly arrested the momentum of the insurgency in much of the country and have reversed it in a number of important areas," according to the report released Friday. But the gains, it says, are "fragile and reversible."

The capabilities of the Afghan army are steadily improving, and "senior insurgent leadership was increasingly challenged to keep subordinates committed to the fight," the report says. Even so, it notes, "senior Taliban leaders continue to voice confidence in their ultimate success."

The mixed assessment in the report to Congress, which is required by law twice a year, underscores the Pentagon's concern that the security situation could deteriorate in coming months as the Taliban seeks to regain former strongholds in southern and eastern regions.

Some U.S. commanders acknowledge that the number of insurgent attacks probably will rise to a record high this year, even though the militants face more U.S., European and Afghan troops than ever before.

"This year and this spring, the Taliban are going to make some significant efforts," said a senior Defense official, who answered questions about the report on condition of anonymity. "And that's going to be a big challenge for the Afghan forces, for us, as those efforts are made."

The report's cautious findings also point to the Pentagon's worry that claims of too much progress in the decade-old war could strengthen those in the White House who advocate a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops this year.

Although thousands of insurgents have been killed or captured since the start of the war, the Pentagon report said, the "cumulative impact" will be impossible to gauge until later this year.

The 122-page report was released as Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, prepares his recommendations for troop withdrawals. President Obama has pledged to begin pulling troops out in July but he has not decided how large the initial drawdowns will be, or when the entire surge force can come home, officials say.

The report comes a day after Obama announced that he was nominating Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The four-star general will keep his command in Afghanistan until early fall, however.

In recent weeks, Afghan insurgents have carried out several high-profile assassinations and suicide bombings against Afghan officials. They also staged a dramatic jailbreak, digging an underground tunnel to help nearly 500 Taliban detainees escape from the Sarposa prison in Kandahar.

david.cloud@latimes.com

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