DOD to Congress: Violence on the rise in Afghanistan

The number of insurgent attacks against American, Afghan and NATO forces peaked in June, with just under 3,500 reported strikes against Afghan and allied positions across the country, according to a recent Pentagon status report on the Afghan war. 

The most recent version of the semi-annual DOD report, initially called for by Congress back in 2008, was sent to Capitol Hill on Monday. 

The figures in Monday's report dwarfs the roughly 2,700 insurgent attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, which was the previous high, in 2009, when the Obama administration initiated its troop surge into the southern part of the country. 

Those roughly 33,000 U.S. service members funneled into the so-called Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan under the surge have since been pulled out of the country. 

Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is expected to submit his strategy to pull out the remaining 68,000 American troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

But the figures in Monday's Pentagon report raise serious questions as to whether the security situation in Afghanistan is stable enough for the country's nascent government to survive. 

The uptick in violence also calls into doubt whether the White House's decision to surge American forces into the country actually made the country safer, setting the stage for Washington's eventual drawdown. 

That said, the Pentagon did achieve its objectives with the Afghan surge, and the recent uptick in violence is evidence that Taliban and other insurgent groups are fighting back hard to regain those losses, a senior DOD official told reporters on Monday. 

Despite the increase, U.S., Afghan and allied forces have been able to maintain security gains in the country's major cities, like Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, and within many of Afghanistan's most densely populated areas, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

The ability of the Afghan and coalition forces to keep insurgent strikes outside of those population centers "shows [they are] less effective" in spite of the overall increase in attacks, the official said. 

As a result, Taliban leaders have issued a call to their forces to remain in Afghanistan and continue fighting through the winter months, according to the official. 

The terror group's leaders and fighters traditionally return to their havens in Pakistan and elsewhere during the traditional winter lull between fighting seasons, the official said. There is no intelligence showing that rank-and-file Taliban members have heeded their commanders' call to remain in position and keep fighting into the new year, the DOD official added. 

However, Taliban fighters still have been able to make their way into major Afghan cities and carry out attacks against U.S. and Afghan targets. 

Asadullah Khalid, head of National Directorate of Security, was severely wounded during a suicide bombing at one of Khalid's guest houses in Kabul last Thursday.

In November, another Taliban suicide bomber was able to breach security at U.S. and NATO headquarters in Kabul and set off a suicide bomb inside the complex. 

Despite those attacks and the overall increase in violence, U.S. ground commanders in Afghanistan are continuing to pursue an aggressive effort to prepare for the 2014 withdrawal. 

American commanders have already handed over a total of four U.S. military outposts in Paktika and neighboring Ghazni province to Afghan forces, according to Lt. Col. Scott Thomas, the deputy commander for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

The brigade combat team, dubbed Task Force Dragon, is preparing to hand over another four to five U.S. bases to Afghan forces by April, he added.

In neighboring Khost province, U.S. forces are planning to shutter more than a dozen bases by year's end, according to Col. Tim Sullivan, deputy commanding officer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).