During his brief visit to Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama said military progress has been made in recent months against insurgents. Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta has also said continuing military attacks in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan are damaging al-Qaida.
"Really the strategy is centered on disrupting, deterring and defeating al-Qaida by establishing a much more secure Afghan state," said Tim Pippard, Jane's Strategic Advisory Services consultant. "And tangentially, it's about reversing some of the momentum enjoyed by the Taliban and strengthening the Afghan military and security forces."
The strategy, adopted by President Obama last December, consists of three major components. The first is an additional 30,000 American troops targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces. The second is developing a more effective civilian strategy designed to assist the Afghan government. And the third involves establishing a more effective relationship with Pakistani officials.
Pippard believes Panetta's comments indicate that the new Afghan strategy is showing some success. "Certainly in relation to the military component, the U.S. has succeeded through its sustained campaign of drone strikes, particularly since 2007, in targeting senior Taliban and al Qaida operatives in the Af-Pak border region," he said.
But Pippard cautions against U.S. officials becoming too optimistic. He says there is a lack of an effective partnerships with local and tribal militias in Afghanistan. "Remember that was a key feature during the surge in Iraq where U.S. forces were very successful in developing relationships with Sunni tribes who were themselves opposed to al-Qaida strategy in Iraq," he said.
And the status of al-Qaida itself remains fluid. "Al-Qaida has evolved quite considerably since 9-11 to the point where we shouldn't necessarily view the group only in the context of its ability to organize and execute attacks," Pippard said. "Let's remember that al-Qaida has morphed into a highly decentralized network of associated groups and individuals and that has shifted idealogical and operational authority away from [Osama] bin Laden and also the senior leadership in the Af-Pak border region."