Military Upbeat in Afghanistan: 'We Have the Initiative'

Taliban intercepts indicate "they are really hurting."

ByMike Gudgell
November 08, 2010, 9:27 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan Nov. 9, 2010— -- "We have the initiative," Gen. Josef Blotz, spokesman for the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan told ABC News. "We have taken the momentum from the enemy."

Military leaders here concede that changes on the battlefield are fragile and not "irreversible." One senior officer who has read transcripts of Taliban radio and phone conversations tells ABC, "It's not over yet, but they are really hurting."

Much has changed in Afghanistan over the past year. Last year at this time the commanding general, Stanley McChrystal, warned that "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

Since then, the Taliban have taken the insurgency to villages and rural areas in northern and western provinces that had been largely free of the Taliban. The encouraging reports out of Kabul also come as the military is preparing to make a report to President Obama on the progress of the fight.

Nevertheless, reports coming out of military headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force since the end of summer have the force of real optimism and give credence that the military is making progress in blunting the Taliban's influence.

Most of the surge troops sent by President Obama were in place by September and since then there has been a steady drum beat of success stories.

In early September, we heard about the accelerating tempo of special forces operations. "We're pounding them," said one ISAF officer.

Now with more resources than there were at the height of the war in Iraq, the special operations forces are hitting multiple targets every day, following up on one lead after another. In the past three months ABC News was told that intelligence from the raids may have prevented a team of suicide bombers from getting into polling centers in Kabul during the election on Sept. 18.

By late September, thousands of coalition soldiers moved into the home of the Taliban, the Arghendab River Valley west of Kandahar. Called "Operation Dragon Strike," the Afghan and U.S. soldiers expected stiff resistance. Two weeks later 70 percent of the area had been cleared. Taliban sources admit they were surprised by the use of heavy weapons, air strikes and artillery.

Then, on Sept. 27, came the tantalizing suggestion that Taliban leaders were ready to negotiate. The first whiff of talks came from Gen. David Petraeus, then NATO Representative Mark Sedwill and quickly followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While they may be ready to negotiate, there are still no talks.

Genuine Optimism at ISAF Headquarters Over Afghan Surge

By early October, ISAF spokesman Blotz told ABC News that six districts in a once violent area of Helmand Province were so safe that they were considered in the "hold" status, meaning there was no longer any serious fighting. The enemy was no longer dominating the area.

On Oct. 13, commanding general of the eastern command Gen. John Campbell told reporters, "I think we've stopped the momentum of the insurgency, and it's turning the tide right now."

On Oct. 26, the Marine general in charge of Regional Command Southwest, one of the most contested and bloody areas of the country, said, "I think everybody back home can be exceptionally proud of the work that's being done here and know that, for the sacrifices we are making, that great progress is being made."

A senior diplomat tells ABC News that it's no longer a question of "should we stay in Afghanistan?"

Obama could decide to start withdrawing troops beginning in June of next year, but the U.S. is telling allies that there will be a significant number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan at least until the end of 2014.

That decision will be made public soon, probably during NATO meetings in two weeks. The only debate left, according to officials in Kabul, will be about numbers -- how many troops and how much money.

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