The war in Afghanistan remains "a very difficult endeavor" but the U.S. is "on track to achieve our goals," President Obama said today following the release of an administration assessment of the eight year war.
U.S. forces can and will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan on schedule in July, the president said, although he warned that the gains there are "fragile and reversible."
"Progress comes slowly and at the very high price of the lives of our men and women in uniform," he said.
But with a majority of Americans no longer believing the Afghan war is worth fighting, the president made a case for continuing the battle.
"It's important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan... Afghanistan is where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks and murdered 3,000 people," he said, adding that if al Qaeda were allowed to operate unchecked, the U.S. would be again threatened.
An unclassified summary of the report, released Wednesday night, found the U.S. has succeeded in killing many Al Qaeda leaders and diminishing their capacity to carry out terrorist attacks, but suggested the Taliban still holds sway over much of the country.
The report, the first comprehensive review of President Obama's war strategy, found that the U.S. and its allies had bolstered Afghan forces against the Taliban, but that progress was uneven and success could easily be overturned if more was not done to find insurgents in their hiding places in Pakistan.
"The momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible," according to the overview.
The five-page summary says the conditions are consistent with a withdrawal in 2011, but does not give an indication of its size or how many troops could be expected to return home at that time.
The report became public the same day a poll found that a record 60 percent of Americans said they no longer believe the war in Afghanistan is worth fighting. Public dissatisfaction with the war spiked by 7 points just since July,according to new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
The report speaks mainly in generalities, diplomatically walking a line between the military, which wants time to develop a strategy and those Democrats who want to end the war quickly. It also treads carefully in its criticism of allies Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is "substantial, but also uneven," according the to the assessment.
The war in Afghanistan, launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, is now the longest war the U.S. has ever fought. The president inherited a war that he believed was mishandled as resources were dedicated to Iraq and ordered a surge of forces to Afghanistan.
Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops to the region last year, bringing the total number of US forces to around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.
"The surge in coalition military and civilian resources, along with an expanded special operations forces targeting campaign and expanded local security measures at the village level, has reduced Taliban influence," the summary says.
The review says progress is apparent in the way coalition forces are "clearing the Taliban heartland" in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
But independent assessments tells another story, in areas where coalition troops have not focused their energies, the Taliban is resurgent and powerful.
Outside of those provinces with a strong coalition presence the Taliban's power is growing, a fact not mentioned in the assessment. In the Western provinces of Heart and Badghis, fighters from Helmand have arrived in recent months to launch a targeted assassination campaign and to make the roads too dangerous to travel. Conditions are much worse there than they were a year ago.