Washington (AFP) Jan 12, 2010
US commanders say their forces are already turning the tide against insurgents in Afghanistan but some experts are more cautious about declaring progress so soon.
"I am curious to know what measurements they're using to define this progress," Malou Innocent, an analyst at the CATO institute, told AFP.
Only months after warning of a dire situation in Afghanistan, the head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said in an interview aired Monday that US-led forces were shifting the momentum against the Taliban.
Other top generals also struck a similarly upbeat tone this week, less than two months since President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 troops to "seize the initiative" against a growing insurgency.
"They've taken on the Taliban, the insurgency, right in the heartland and they've defeated them," said Major General Richard Mills in an interview with USA Today, referring to Marine offensives in the country's south.
A delegation of lawmakers who recently visited Afghanistan said they too were encouraged, with Senator Roger Wicker saying US forces were poised "to win 2010."
Innocent said the generals' comments appeared to be an orchestrated effort by the administration amid public anxiety about the war.
"It all points out to a coordinated media campaign, although we're only a few months into a 18-24 month strategy," she said.
The optimism comes despite the US military's own internal reports that describe Afghan security forces as "plagued by corruption and nepotism," she said.
But supporters of the latest troop buildup said there were signs US forces were having an effect against the insurgency.
"We seem to be doing well where we can put down adequate forces and stay a while," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
"I'd say that we haven't actually gained the momentum yet ourselves, just stopped them (insurgents) from continuing to gain it," he said.
Other military analysts have credited Obama with taking a more focused approach to Afghanistan than his predecessor, but tend to describe the outcome of the war effort as an open question.
According to the military's reporting on violent attacks and the reach of the insurgents over the past eight months, the Taliban and its allies "have pushed the war to the crisis stage," Anthony Cordesman, a prominent military analyst, wrote Tuesday.
The administration had made an important step in committing more troops and resources to a long-neglected mission but "the odds of victory are probably now little better than even," Cordesman wrote on the wesbite of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
In his interview with ABC telvision, McChrystal recounted a recent meeting in the Helmand river valley -- a former Taliban stronghold -- as a promising example of progress.
"When I sit in an area that the Taliban controlled only seven months ago and now you meet with a shura of elders and they describe with considerable optimism the future, you sense the tide is turning," he said.
McChrystal's comments coincided with the deadliest day since October for NATO-led forces, with six soldiers killed on Monday.
The general has warned that an increase in US and NATO forces would lead to more combat with insurgents and more casualties.
Although most of the 30,000 additional troops ordered by Obama have yet to arrive in Afghanistan, about 21,000 reinforcements were deployed shortly after the president entered the White House a year ago.
Obama's attempt to counter the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan is hampered by years of neglect under the previous administration, and may take years to show results, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer.
"This policy, by its very definition, is not going to produce results overnight," Riedel said in a video posted by the Brookings Institution.
"You cannot turn the disaster he inherited into something better in a year, or two years, or maybe even four. But at least we're focused on the problem now in a way we haven't been for the last decade."
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