The commander of coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan said Thursday that his troops have "degraded" the capabilities of insurgents in the region during the past year. But he added that they can still regenerate their forces and carry out attacks. U.S. Army Major General Curtis Scaparrotti said a joint military and civilian effort is beginning to move his region into a situation that could allow for more Afghan control and a smaller foreign presence next year.
Speaking from his headquarters at Bagram Air Base, General Scaparrotti told reporters his forces have made progress on the military side of the international effort in eastern Afghanistan, particularly against the ally of the Taliban and al-Qaida known as the Haqqani network.
"We, along with the special operations forces that work with us, have had great effect against the Haqqani network," said General Scaparrotti. "And we can see that we've stressed their leadership, their facilitation, the movement of their expertise and resupply. And within the Taliban, we've seen the same effects."
Still the general acknowledged that the insurgent groups have not been defeated.
"These networks are good enough and they're resilient enough, particularly the Haqqani network, that we have to maintain that pressure," he said. "A network that we don't maintain pressure on after we take it down, it's generally six or seven weeks and they can begin to rebuild that."
The general says the insurgents are using more roadside bombs and suicide bombers than they have in the past. But he says recent high-profile attacks, including one on his headquarters base, were designed more for publicity than for military purposes.
Scaparrotti also says the top U.S. civilian in eastern Afghanistan operates as his co-commander. He says military operations and training for the Afghan security forces support the main civilian effort in the region - to build Afghan government capacity and convince the people to support the government.
In that regard, he cited a year-long anti-corruption effort involving officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"I'll be frank. I was somewhat frustrated around the nine and a half, ten-month mark with this because we had put a lot of work into it," said General Scaparrotti. "But in the last two months now of our tour, we have begun to make progress."
The number of U.S. government civilians in the general's region has increased from about 20 to 170 during the past 12 months, and will increase by another hundred by the end of the year. General Scaparrotti's successor, who is set to arrive in two weeks, will also get about 4,000 of the 30,000 U.S. surge forces going to Afghanistan, which Scaparrotti says will help spread security and governance to more of the region. He says this is a critical period in the effort to reach President Barack Obama's goal of beginning to transition to Afghan government control, and to begin to withdrawal U.S. forces, by July of next year.