A new report on the war in Afghanistan says the security situation in the southern part of the country is fundamentally different than a year ago. It says the Taliban has lost almost all of its safe havens in the south and the momentum of the insurgency there has been arrested and probably reversed.
The report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War says one year after U.S. President Barack Obama decided to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan substantial progress has been made. "The security gains that have been made in the south are very important and they are unprecedented," he said.
Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who spent 150 days in Afghanistan in 2010 assessing the success of the surge of additional troops and their effort to defeat the Taliban and provide security for the local population. "We have never before conducted multiple, large-scale, simultaneous clear and hold operations in Helmand and Kandahar, continuing to hold in an area that we have cleared while also clearing other areas. We have not done that before," he said.
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While the report says the insurgency is not gaining strength in northern Afghanistan, some analysts are expressing concern that the security situation in some northern provinces has recently deteriorated.
"Because so many in the intelligence community believe the situation has deteriorated, because you have so many on the ground reports from reporters, journalists, etc., talking about the deteriorating situation in the north I am going to be very cautious about saying that we are progressing or not until I have more evidence," said Andrew Exum, an analyst with the Center for New American Security.
President Obama has announced a drawdown of troops to begin later this year, with the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014.
There are currently nearly 150,000 soldiers in the Afghan Army, an increase of nearly 50,000 in 2010.
Retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane, now a national security analyst for ABC News, says the growing Afghan force is having an impact. "The Afghan Army and security forces in general obviously are part of our exit strategy and that is self-evident to all of us, but what I am trying to tell you is that force is now making a difference and its growth and maturation I think as we go forward is going to be significant," he said.
The report says the persistence of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan continues to present a major challenge for the success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Retired General Keane says the U.S. and other countries must continue to put significant pressure on the Pakistani government and military to deal with the safe havens inside the country. "It is absolutely outrageous that we have an ally in the region here that we provide money to on a continuous basis that is directly aiding and abetting these sanctuaries from which attacks are launched inside Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO forces and Afghan forces and killing and maiming us on a regular basis," he said.
U.S. military officials have called the North Waziristan tribal region in Pakistan the world’s "epicenter" of terrorism.
Pakistani Army officials have indicated they will launch an attack on the area, but say currently their forces are spread too thin for such an operation to take place now.