NATO defense ministers say progress is being made in Afghanistan despite tough resistance from the Taliban insurgency.
In a statement as they wrapped up a two-day meeting in Brussels, NATO defense ministers described military operations in Afghanistan as making measured progress. But they acknowledged significant challenges remain. That sentiment was shared by NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his remarks to the ministers.
"We expect, the Afghan people expect and our populations expect, to see progress. We're only halfway through this year, but progress is visible - political and military progress," Rasmussen said.
NATO ministers point specifically to two Afghan regions – Central Helmand and Kandahar – where their troops have focused on routing the Taliban insurgency. Rasmussen also pointed to political markers, including a recent peace jirga, or meeting, in Afghanistan gathering key players, and upcoming parliamentary elections.
Still, the mission has faced significant setbacks, with more than two-dozen NATO troops killed this week alone. On Thursday, NATO's force commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said a key operation in Kandahar would go slower than originally planned.
Public and political frustration is also growing after nine years of fighting the Taliban. Still, Rasmussen told a press conference that NATO would likely begin transferring security operations to Afghan forces as planned.
"I still think it is still a realistic goal that the transition process can start by the end of this year. I have continuously stressed that or course it is a condition-based process and not a calendar-driven process," he adds.
Rasmussen has joined Washington in urging NATO allies to send more trainers to Afghanistan to strengthen Afghan police and military forces.