The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan says Afghan forces have improved to the point that, working with coalition troops, they can take the fight to Taliban insurgents in areas the insurgents have controlled in the past.
Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry says he has been emphasizing quality, rather than quantity, in developing the new Afghan army, which he says is now 30,000 strong. He says there has been more fighting in Afghanistan in recent months than there had been before, but he says much of that is being initiated by Afghan and coalition forces.
"These forces, now, these combined forces, are able to operate in areas that, ... in previous years, we were not able to move into," he said. "So in places, say, in northern parts of southern Afghanistan, traditionally points of Taliban influence, points in eastern Afghanistan, traditionally places of Taliban influence, that are very difficult to get to, mountainous areas, we are now able to move into those areas."
General Eikenberry also says he has no evidence of any cooperation between insurgents in Afghanistan and those in Iraq, although he says money continues to flow to the Afghan insurgents from outside the country. He acknowledged an increase in bombings in Afghanistan, but he said it does not necessarily mean the insurgency is getting stronger.
"A shift in tactics is not necessarily a sign of strength," he said. "My belief is that the shift in tactics right now is very much a sign of weakness."
General Eikenberry says the Taliban is getting weaker, because of some military defeats and because of the continuing progress in the Afghan political process. The newly elected parliament is to begin meeting within two weeks.
The general also says there has been a steady increase in the willingness of ordinary Afghans to cooperate with the new army and the coalition. But he added that the army has some work to do to establish its credibility in the former Taliban strongholds where it is now starting to operate.
General Eikenberry also welcomed the results of a public opinion survey in Afghanistan by the U.S. television network ABC.
The poll found that 77 percent of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction, and 91 percent prefer the current government to the ousted Taliban regime. In addition, 90 percent said they have a negative view of the al-Qaida terrorist network leader Osama bin Laden.
ABC notes that those views prevail even though most Afghans do not have electricity, easy access to good medical care or many economic opportunities.