Brussels: NATO`s top military official said on Wednesday that 2010 was a critical year in the war in Afghanistan because the alliance has started to consolidate its control over some of the country`s most violent regions.
Italian Adm Giampaolo Di Paola`s optimistic statement is likely to closely reflect the conclusions of President Barack Obama`s Afghanistan war review, due to be made public on Thursday.
"Certainly, the momentum which the Taliban have been perceived as having has been reversed, considerably reversed in some areas," Di Paola said.
At last month`s summit in Portugal, NATO leaders endorsed Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s proposal that Afghanistan take lead responsibility for security by the end of 2014. That would begin next year with an unspecified but small number of areas transferred to Afghan control.
The plan would allow NATO members to begin reducing their troop contingent of about 140,000, but the full timeline has yet to be determined. Obama has said he will start pulling out some of the approximately 100,000 US troops there next July, but US officials have said the number going home is likely to be small.
Afghan Army and police are scheduled to grow to more than 300,000 troops over the next two years. They face an estimated 25,000-30,000 Taliban guerrillas and other rebels.
"This year has been the critical year for Afghanistan ... the year which has seen progress starting to consolidate," Di Paola told reporters. "The decision to start the transition (to Afghan forces) in some parts of the country early next year is clear evidence of progress."
The admiral, who chairs NATO`s Military Committee, the alliance`s top military body, noted that most of the violence in Afghanistan was confined to just three areas in the east and south.
"Over 50 percent of the violence is in just nine districts, out of Afghanistan`s 401 districts," Di Paola said.
Those regions were home to just 5 per cent of the country`s population, he said.
NATO commanders say their forces have inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban, and have seized control of several regions in the insurgency`s heartland in Helmand province and around the southern city of Kandahar.
But critics point out that the heavily outnumbered and outgunned rebels have simply declined combat, slipping away to spread the insurgency to other parts of the country. Taliban fighters also have inflicted record losses on the international forces during 2011.