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American Forces Press Service

Official: Safer Afghanistan Moves Away From Taliban

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2012 – Two years before U.S. and coalition forces withdraw, Afghans are now safer and the country is moving away from the Taliban, said a senior defense official who briefed reporters on the just-released Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.

The key point from the report -- which covers the period of April through September and was delivered to Congress today -- is that populated areas in Afghanistan are more secure, the official told reporters at the Pentagon.

It notes that the Taliban "strove to take back territory in the past six months, [but] they were not able to do so," the official said. "The territory we've taken, we've held."

Afghan forces have increased in size and capability, and are doing the heavy lifting, the official said. "The Afghans are the ones carrying out the operations in Afghanistan," he added. "They're the ones who are leading the operations or are carrying them out independently."

The official noted that Afghan-led operations can be very complex with thousands of soldiers and police taking part. In a couple of cases this year, operations included tens of thousands of soldiers and police.

But Pakistan, the official said, remains a huge problem because it provides a safe haven for Taliban insurgents who use the federally administered tribal areas along the Afghanistan border as a sanctuary and as a place to plan more strikes.

Still, the official noted, U.S. relations with Pakistan have improved. Pakistan agreed to re-open supply lines in and out of Afghanistan, which it had ordered closed for months following a coalition airstrike a year ago that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. There have since been meetings among Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. officials.

Cross-border shelling remains a problem, but the three entities are working together to trap terrorists on both sides of the border, the official said.

The coalition role also is shifting to security force assistance. "Battalions being deployed by the U.S. and other countries are shifting the size and character of what the foreign military presence is doing in Afghanistan," he said.

Afghanistan is on track to take over the security lead by next summer, ahead of the end of the NATO mission at the end of 2014, the official added.

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