ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and Luis Martinez Report: The Taliban have a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan — up from 54 percent a year ago — according to a report released by an international think tank today.
That conclusion by the International Council on Security and Development was disputed by the Afghan government and NATO.
"We don’t see the figures in this report as being credible at all," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told Reuters. "The Taliban are only present in the south and east which is already less than 50 percent of the country."
What is clear, however, is that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and more troops are needed.
In the short term, an Army brigade — about 3,700 troops — will be sent to two provinces south of Kabul instead of to the provinces bordering Pakistan, which tells you how bad the security situation is getting so close to the Afghanistan capital. A battalion of combat troops from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division will be sent to the volatile Kunar Province along the border with Pakistan, but the bulk of the forces will head to Wardak and Loghar Provinces.
A Defense Official says sending the troops to these provinces will provide the troops needed for areas where there is a weak coalition presence and allow U.S. troops on the border to dedicate even more of their attention to the border provinces where insurgents continue to wage attacks from across their safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region.
But top commanders in Afghanistan have said they need 20,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, an idea supported by President-Elect Obama, who said throughout the presidential campaign that he would support sending more troops to Afghanistan. But getting those troops to Afghanistan could take anywhere from 12-18 months as the brunt of the forces will have to come from troops still destined for Iraq.
Obama wants to move all combat troops out of that country within the next 16 months, but much of that will depend on the security situation there.
Some military officials, including General David Petraeus — currently the commander of Centcom and previously the architect of the "surge" in Iraq, want to ensure the exit strategy is executed slowly and deliberately, with a close eye on the situation on the ground. As troops leave, they want to be certain none of their hard-earned gains are lost.
In the meantime, the military services continue to plan for possible deployments to Afghanistan if and when the troops are made available. A Defense Official says the Marines have drawn up plans for possibly sending between 3,000-5,000 Marines to Afghanistan next year, but these are forces that would only be made available if the drawdown of troops continues in Iraq.