The Pentagon's latest semi-annual assessment of the war in Afghanistan is the most optimistic yet and cites "tangible progress" in slowing the Taliban's momentum. Still, the report says progress in the fight is "fragile and reversible," warning there could be increased violence as the Taliban wages a tough fight to counter NATO's territorial and security gains in southern Afghanistan.
Entitled "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan," the congressionally mandated report says seven areas in Afghanistan have been handed back from NATO control to the Afghan government.
"Since the last report," says the report, U.S. and Afghan forces "have made tangible progress, arresting the insurgents' momentum in much of the country and reversing it in a number of important areas." It continues, "The coalition's efforts have wrested major safe havens from the insurgents' control disrupted their leadership networks, and removed many of the weapons caches and tactical supplies they left behind at the end of the previous fighting season."
A senior U.S. defense official who briefed reporters on the report said the Taliban had suffered a "strategic setback" in the south and southwestern parts of the country, but cautioned that violence will continue to increase as the Taliban tries to retake these areas.
The United States sent an additional 30,000 troops and 1,000 civilians last year and NATO partners contributed an additional 10,000 troops -- all part of a surge to end the fighting once and for all. But of similar importance was the increase in the strength of Afghan security forces. The Afghan Army now has 159,000 troops, and the Afghan Police number 125,000 -- 92,000 more personnel than there were in November 2009.
The official said the goal in Afghanistan is to train the Afghan security forces so they can maintain the fight against the Taliban on their own. He called the most important thing highlighted n the report "the growing capacity of the Afghan security forces."
To that end, the report says 95 percent of all Afghan army units and 89 percent of Afghan police units are partnered with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops, and 95 percent of al ISAF operations are partnered with the Afghans. The official said that in Kandahar province, Afghan troops now make up 60 percent of all forces.
Some Afghan forces are dropping out, but the army is trying to keep them by teaching them to read -- something many of them have never had a chance to learn. More than 63,000 soldiers have undergone literacy training, with the majority having received first grade equivalency.
The report says the insurgents' momentum has arrested the Taliban momentum in Afghanistan and removed safe havens in the south and southwest.
There has been a significant increase in the number of Taliban arms caches that have been found in the last six months. More than 140 arms caches have been found in each of the last two months, as compared with about 30 in October 2010.