US strategy on Afghanistan 'is weakening al-Qaeda'

Former Taliban fighters surrender weapons in Herat, Dec 2010 Much of the momentum achieved by the Taliban has been arrested, the review says

Al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan is at its weakest since 2001, a US review of Afghan strategy has said.

President Barack Obama's review also says the US has made enough progress in Afghanistan to start a "responsible reduction" of forces in July 2011.

But it says the gains made against the Taliban by a US troop surge remain "fragile and reversible".

The US plans to end combat operations in 2014 and transfer responsibility for the country's affairs to Afghans.

The review comes at a time when civilian casualties are at their highest since the US-led invasion of 2001. This year has also been the bloodiest for foreign troops since 2001, with the US taking the brunt of the casualties.

'Sustained pressure'

The White House has released a five-page summary of the review of the war strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan ahead of speech by President Obama on the document later on Thursday.

The review says: "Al-Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001."


This review may be more about tone than detail. The verdict is that the surge strategy has had results, but they're not decisive. Indeed, they're patchy and uneven, and slower than had been hoped in Washington.

In reality, because of the continuing uncertainties, this review may be less significant than had first been envisaged. The key decisions will come in the early months of next year. The US military is emphasising progress in those areas where it has concentrated its efforts - in the south, and especially around the city of Kandahar.

It's still a broad counter-insurgency strategy, supposedly focused on protecting the population, but it's become more hard-edged in recent months, with intensifying military pressure on insurgents.

But problems continue, and even mount, in other parts of the country. Despite growing numbers, the performance of the Afghan forces is still in doubt, as is that of both Afghan and Pakistani governments.

It says Washington is "laying the foundation for a strategic partnership [with Pakistan] based on mutual respect and trust".

Pakistan had made progress in tackling al-Qaeda's "safe havens", it says, but it admits the relationship with the US is "uneven".

The review continues: "In Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.

"While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of al-Qaeda, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable."

The review comes as Americans' patience with the war in Afghanistan appears to be waning. According to a new poll by ABC news and the Washington Post, 60% of Americans say the war has not been worth fighting. That is up seven points just since July.

Meanwhile, 14 people - many reportedly members of a family travelling to a wedding - were killed when a roadside bomb struck. A national security officer attributed the attack to the Taliban.

BBC correspondents say the bigger picture is of an insurgency fighting to the death in Helmand and Kandahar and expanding in places like Ghazni and Kunduz.

The Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, has said a number of insurgents have approached the Afghan government and foreign forces about laying down arms.

The review says that, in 2011, "we will intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, to include Afghan-led reconciliation".

Barack Obama, 15 Dec Barack Obama is under pressure to withdraw troops from an unpopular war

However, the Taliban leadership has publicly shunned the idea of direct reconciliation talks with the government.

The report confirms that US troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in July next year but the extent and pace of the withdrawal remain unclear.

There are more than 140,000 Nato troops, including 100,000 Americans, in Afghanistan trying to defeat the insurgency.

President Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 more US troops a year ago.

On Wednesday, two other reports had painted a bleak assessment of the strategy in Afghanistan.

The Red Cross found armed groups were making life more difficult for Afghans.

And US intelligence assessments reported by the New York Times suggested there was a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunted down insurgents.

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