Pentagon reports Taliban attacks up during Afghan fighting season
By David Alexander
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." Continued...