Taliban poised to make gains in Afghanistan

Taliban poised to make gains in Afghanistan
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The Taliban is set to gain territory this year in Afghanistan as the Obama administration weighs slowing down its withdrawal of troops, the top U.S. intelligence official indicated Thursday. 

Afghan National Security Forces may maintain control of most urban spots this year but it's likely they will give up rural areas, according to a report released Thursday by James ClapperJames Robert ClapperClapper: 'Americans should be very concerned' about lack of notes from Trump-Putin meetings Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation Mueller's findings don't matter MORE, director of National Intelligence. 

The Taliban is "increasingly aggressive" and poised to "take territory in outlying areas and steadily reassert influence over significant portions of the Pashtun countryside, positioning itself for greater territorial gains in 2015," the document notes.

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The official U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended in December, though around 10,000 U.S. troops remain in the country. Defense Secretary Ash Carter indicated during a trip to the country last weekend that the White House was reevaluating its timeline for withdrawing forces.

The Taliban has celebrated the U.S. drawdown of forces "as a sign of its inevitable victory, reinforcing its commitment to returning to power," the intelligence report notes. 

Earlier this month, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani requested that U.S. troop levels remain "flat" through the end of the year, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). 

Currently, troop levels are to be roughly halved by 2016, followed by a complete withdrawal by 2017.

The intelligence report would appear to put pressure on President Obama to reevaluate that timeline, and also points out the necessity for the international community to provide funding and support for local security forces, which have been negatively impacted by slowed economic conditions in Europe and Japan.

"International financial aid remains the most important external determinant of the Kabul government’s strength," the document reads. "Without international funding, the ANSF will probably not remain a cohesive or viable force."

Meanwhile, Afghanistan accounts for 80 percent of global opium production; the opiate trade is a key funding source for the Taliban, the document notes.