In its first formal report on the situation in Afghanistan, the U.S. Defense Department says the Taliban is "a resilient insurgency" and is expected to expand its challenges to the Afghan government. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The report required by Congress says the Taliban "is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings" this year, and to move beyond the south and east, where most of the fighting has been happening. It says the activity "will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas" throughout the country. The report says the Taliban is able to do this even though U.S., Afghan and allied operations have killed many insurgent leaders and forced the group out of former safe havens.
But the report calls the Taliban safe haven in Pakistan "the greatest challenge to long-term security" in Afghanistan. It calls for better Afghan-Pakistani military cooperation, and laments a reduction in Pakistani military operations against insurgents in the border areas, which have decreased cross-border attacks in the past. The Pentagon report also expresses concern about a new round of agreements the Pakistani government is considering with local tribal leaders, saying past agreements have led to an increase in cross-border attacks.
The period covered by the report ended in early April, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed similar concerns during a news conference on Thursday. He was asked about the 40 percent increase in violence in Afghanistan during the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year.
"Well, I think it is a matter of concern, of real concern," he said. "And I think that one of the reasons that we're seeing the increase is more people coming across the border from the frontier area. And I think it's an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government."
Secretary Gates also welcomed a newly announced Pakistani initiative to get control of the border area.
The report issued Friday says there has been good progress in building the new Afghan Army, but says abuses by security forces continue in spite of efforts to professionalize the force. It also says police training has lagged behind army training, and "has been hindered" by corruption, a lack of trainers and insufficient international coordination. And the report says narcotics trafficking remains "a significant challenge" for Afghanistan "and will be for some time."
The Defense Department also issued a separate report providing more depth on the status of the Afghan security forces, and laying out a detailed plan for training and equipping the country's army, police and air force, and its Defense and Interior Ministries. The report says there should be 70,000 troops in the Afghan army by the end of this year, and 10,000 more by the end of next year. It says about 75,000 police officers have been fielded, of a planned 82,000, but not all of them are fully capable.
The Pentagon says "success in Afghanistan… is crucial to global security," and calls for "the sustained interest and commitment of the international community" to fight the insurgents and to build the capacity of the Afghan government and its security forces.