London: The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is “alive and well”, and a true assessment of the progress made to neutralise the latter’s threat can only be made in the summer of 2011, the commander of NATO forces in the southern part of the country has said.
Major General Nick Carter said it would be “foolish” to offer “military optimism” or claim it was “all going swimmingly well”.
The Telegraph quoted him as saying that it would be June or July next year, the start of the new “fighting season” in Afghanistan, before it was possible to assess progress in the south.
His comments follow a major build up of US troops around Kandahar and elsewhere in southern Afghanistan.
Asked if troops will be able to withdraw next year, as planned by President Obama, he said: “In the south there are positive trends. Great men in mighty capitals will make the decision if that is enough.”
He said there were “enough green shoots to give it a try” but he added that it was “very difficult to put a time on it”.
The commander, who is returning to Britain after a year in charge of 50,000 allied troops, said it was important to be “realistic”.
He said that 302 soldiers under his command had died during the year, most of them American, and 2,000 had received life changing injuries.
The general said many Taliban were motivated by local or tribal grievances but there was also a powerful leadership in Quetta in Pakistan.
“They are very clever, adaptive and resilient,” Gen Carter said. “They have shadow [government] positions across the south – I would know who my opposite number was.”
He said the insurgency around Kandahar was “morphing to adapt to a new battlefield” which involved the Taliban targeting government employees for assassination.
But he said Special Forces were succeeding in taking out middle and low level Taliban leadership.
He said progress had been made in finding new arms caches around Zhari which was recently cleared by coalition troops.