NATO says coalition forces have made significant progress in recent weeks in tackling the Taliban-insurgency. But confidential U.N. maps released by a prominent U.S. newspaper suggest security has deteriorated in parts of the country this year.
A spokesman for the coalition forces, General Josef Blotz, told reporters in Kabul Monday that security forces have clearly made progress in recent weeks across Afghanistan. However, he said, pressure must continue on insurgents to solidify the military gains. General Blotz gave details of the nearly 1,800 operations coalition forces have conducted together with their Afghan partners in the past three months.
"In the last 90 days, Afghan and coalition forces captured or killed 880 insurgent leaders, killed 384 lower level insurgents and captured more than 2,300 lower-level insurgents," he said. "While we still expect very tough fighting in the weeks and months ahead as operations move into the last insurgent-controlled areas, we also have now started to shift to the hold phase in many areas of the country."
The NATO spokesman did not give details of coalition casualties, but the current year has been the deadliest for the international forces since the war started in Afghanistan nine years ago. Nearly 700 foreign soldiers have died so far this year and the Taliban insurgency has spread to parts of the country that previously were considered relatively safe.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama gave his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. In a review of his Afghan strategy, Obama said the war effort was "on track." But he also acknowledged the military gains were fragile. Under the strategy, the U.S. President ordered 30,000 extra troops into battle to prepare for a planned security handover to Afghan forces in 2014.
But NATO and U.S. claims of progress were in contrast with confidential United Nations maps published by the U.S. newspaper the Wall Street Journal that appeared to show a clear deterioration in security this year across Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal says it was given access to two maps used to assess the dangers for U.N. workers traveling and running projects in the country. It says one map showed the situation at the start of this year's fighting in March and the other in October, when violence subsided.
The paper says that while the situation in the south remained virtually unchanged at "very high risk," it worsened in as many as 16 districts in northern and eastern Afghanistan. So far, there has been no U.N. reaction to the newspaper report.