Afghanistan review shows progress, but terror concerns remain

President Obama's annual review of the Afghanistan war strategy paints a mixed picture of "reversible" U.S. and NATO gains in a hostile region that still poses a threat to the U.S. homeland.

An unclassified review, provided to reporters by the White House, warns that while al Qaeda's senior leadership has been "depleted" and the group's ability to prepare terrorist attacks has been "degraded," the terror network still poses a threat.

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"The compounding losses of al Qaeda’s leadership cadre have diminished — but not halted — the group’s ability to advance operations against the United States and our allies and partners, or to support and inspire regional affiliates," the report says. "Indeed, terrorist plotting continues against the United States and our allies and partners."

The review, which is broken down into three sections — al Qaeda, Pakistan and Afghanistan — says that "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."

The president ordered the annual review as part of the strategy he announced for the region last December, a strategy that included sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The president is scheduled to make a statement on the review at the White House late Thursday morning.

In all three sections, the review says that the president's strategy and accelerated deployment have yielded "notable operation gains," but it also broadly reveals what challenges remain.

Still, the review says that the strategy is "setting the conditions to begin the responsible reduction of U.S. forces in July 2011."

The allied effort has had success in one of the main objectives of halting and reversing the Taliban's momentum, but the review notes "these gains remain fragile and reversible."

For that to change, the review concludes that more help from Pakistan in the border areas is needed.

On the whole, the review says, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan has gotten stronger in the last year, but it has been "uneven."

To improve that, the U.S. will continue its dialogue with Pakistan and "sustain senior-level engagement — including an exchange of visits by Presidents Obama and Zardari."

In Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to be concerned about the governing structure and physical infrastructure of the country, but the strategy "has reduced overall Taliban influence and arrested the momentum they had achieved in recent years in key parts of the country."

"Progress is most evident in the gains Afghan and coalition forces are making in clearing the Taliban heartland of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in the significantly increased size and improved capability of the Afghan National Security Forces," the review says.

The ANSF, the review says, has exceeded its growth targets.