Pentagon releases mostly upbeat assessment of fighting in Afghanistan

The Pentagon on Friday issued a mostly upbeat assessment of the Afghanistan conflict, saying U.S. and NATO forces have made “tangible progress” and “halted” Taliban momentum.

In its latest six-month operational assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, the Pentagon acknowledges some challenges remain, but it emphasizes “notable gains” and “notable achievements” and “great future potential” there.

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“The coalition’s efforts have wrested major safe havens from the insurgents’ control, disrupted their leadership networks and removed many of the weapons caches and tactical supplies they left behind at the end of the previous fighting season,” states the Defense Department report.

The Pentagon describes success in beefing up Afghanistan’s security forces, which U.S. officials say is the key to handing control over to the Afghan government in coming years.

Installing an effective governance structure is another matter, though the Pentagon cites reasons for hope.

“Progress in governance and development was slower than security gains in this reporting period, but there were notable improvements nonetheless, particularly in the south and southwest,” according to DOD.

The bottom line, according to the Pentagon, is: “Progress across Afghanistan remains fragile and reversible, but the momentum generated over the last six months has established the necessary conditions for the commencement of the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in seven areas this summer.”

Editions of the Pentagon reports are required to be delivered to Congress every 180 days. With DOD carrying the burden in Afghanistan — only 1,100 U.S. civilians are there — the department essentially is writing its own report card every six months.

The report credits recent security gains to the 2010 “surge” of 10,000 coalition and U.S. forces, hundreds of American civilians and 70,000 more indigenous forces. These increases have “put in place, for the first time, the necessary resources to achieve the objectives set forth in the comprehensive, civil-military campaign plan,” states the report.

The Pentagon report describes “unprecedented pressure” being placed on the “insurgency,” referring to Taliban and al Qaeda forces.

The report contains an explanation for an increase in “security incidents” over the last six months in the southern and southwestern portions of Afghanistan.

“Although there has been an increase in security incidents in these two provinces, this was to be expected as coalition and Afghan operations have taken away long-held insurgent safe havens while the insurgents have fought hard to retain these areas,” states the report. “Noticeable security gains are evident in Kandahar City and several critical surrounding districts, in Uruzgan Province and in several districts in Helmand Province.”

The Taliban’s influence across the nation and its operational capabilities are now both in decline, according to the Pentagon. Afghan forces are doing more across the nation, as well, it states.

Development efforts in Afghanistan have not progressed during the last 180 days as quickly as security. But, the Pentagon says, that “may be expected.”

“Although progress in development has been uneven, there have been some notable gains,” according to the study. “During this reporting period, the Afghan public’s perception of the provision of basic services has improved, numerous important infrastructure projects have progressed and efforts to bolster the agriculture sector have been yielding results.”

It also cites a new railway, airport improvements and power transmission projects.

As for the nation’s economy, Pentagon reviewers see lots of potential.

“Although Afghanistan is currently reliant on international aid, economic growth is steady and there is great future potential to generate revenue through mineral extraction and through new regional economic trade agreements,” states the study. “Nonetheless, external support will continue to be critical in the near and medium term to help mitigate shortfalls in infrastructure, human capacity, security and anticipated government revenue.”

Among the remaining challenges described by the Defense Department are governance and civilian casualties.

“The Afghan government faces significant political challenges at the national and sub-national levels, which could potentially threaten the progress made in the last six months. At the provincial and district levels, slow development of governance capacity continues to hamper both the reach of the Afghan government and its effectiveness,” states the report. “Corruption and criminal patronage networks continue to undermine state institutions, and allegations of voter fraud in the September 2010 elections and delays in seating the newly elected parliament until January 2011 undermined perceptions of legitimacy.”

As for civilian casualties, anti-U.S. and -coalition forces were responsible for 75 percent of those over the 180-day period, the Pentagon noted.