Senior U.S. defense officials say they expect an increase in violence in Afghanistan as the next round of elections approaches in September. But they say U.S., Afghan and allied forces are working to minimize the threat by pursuing the remnants of Taleban and al-Qaida forces into remote parts of the country.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman told a congressional committee Wednesday that the remnants of the Taleban are "split" and "demoralized." He said many former Taleban supporters have decided to join the political process. But he acknowledged that other Taleban and al-Qaida elements continue to fight.
"The war that is going on is against the remnant of the Taleban and associated groups and they're in the remote border areas," he said. "So that is part of what we are trying to defeat."
Mr. Rodman said the success of elections planned for September is crucial in the effort to help moderates in Afghanistan defeat the extremists. And he said the extremists are getting help from neighboring countries.
"It is a regional problem," he said. "There are extremist groups in the neighboring countries. It does attract a lot of these free-lance jihadis. But we still think the tide of the battle in Afghanistan is going in the right direction. The remnant of al-Qaida and Taleban and whatever outsiders there might be, we think we have them on the defensive. So, it may not be such an attractive place to convene if you're in that line of work."
Still, the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the U.S. military, Lieutenant General Walter Sharp, told the same congressional committee that the militant forces will do their best to disrupt the elections. And he said U.S., coalition and Afghan forces are already moving to address that.
"The coalition and the Afghans will conduct combined offensive operations to weaken and destroy the insurgents and shape the security environment," said General Sharp. "And I think you are already seeing those actions in place by some of the operations that have been taking place in the south and east part of Afghanistan."
General Sharp noted that in addition to 19,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, there are about 10,000 troops from 40 other countries, as well as a growing Afghan army.