One of the top U.S. military commanders arrived in Afghanistan early Wednesday to work on an assessment of American and allied efforts to defeat Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents, who continue to operate six years after the U.S.-led invasion. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with the commander and filed this report from Kabul.
The continuing ability of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to launch attacks and prevent the Afghan government from establishing its authority throughout the country is forcing American officials to take a fresh look at their strategy. While they point to improvements in several parts of the country, U.S. military and civilian officials acknowledge the insurgents are particularly strong in southern Afghanistan, and are able to cause problems in many other areas.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Admiral William Fallon, came on his monthly visit to Afghanistan Wednesday with a broader mission than usual - to make progress on an assessment he is leading aimed at finding a more effective way to deal with the insurgents.
"Well, I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but I've asked my staff to go back and take a look at everything we're doing here, to look at the situation, to reassess where we are so that we can have a firm understanding of the situation," he said. "And as we figure out what we want to do strategically in the country, how we can do it better."
In a VOA interview enroute to Afghanistan, Admiral Fallon said he wants to make recommendations to senior U.S. leaders on how to move forward more effectively in Afghanistan next year. He said one challenge is to get the dozens of countries and organizations working in Afghanistan to better coordinate their efforts.
In that regard, he says there has been progress in one critical area, cooperation with Pakistan on controlling the border region.
The admiral attributes the improvement to several factors.
"Things have gotten better, not cleaned up altogether, but the trends are in the right direction," he added. "The data that I have indicates that in the eastern part, for which the U.S. has responsibility under [NATO] ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and I have a high interest, of course, the level of activity has come down significantly here in the past several months now. I would attribute that to a number of things. One, our people have been very aggressive in going out and seeking out these insurgents and these terrorists to get rid of them. [And, two] on the Pakistani side of the border, the Pakistani military has been more cooperative with us this year."
Admiral Fallon says a joint U.S.-Afghan-Pakistani coordination committee is having more success sharing information and coordinating counter-terrorism efforts along the northern part of the border. But he says he has not seen the same the reduction in cross-border insurgent activity farther south, where most of the violence has been concentrated in recent months.
Admiral Fallon has direct command of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, and his troops also help NATO-led security efforts in the rest of the country. The New York Times reported on Sunday that his assessment will be combined with parallel efforts by NATO and the U.S. State Department in a top level review of Afghanistan strategy early next year.