Taliban tactics show `weakness`: US defence chief

Leon Panetta said security generally was improving across Afghanistan, without offering specific numbers.

Washington: The Taliban`s recent high-profile attacks are a sign of "weakness" that show US-led forces in Afghanistan have seized the initiative in the war, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday.

"Overall, we judge this change in tactics to be a result of a shift in momentum in our favour and a sign of weakness in the insurgency," Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Two days after the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, Panetta said as "the Taliban lost control of territory last year they shifted away from large attacks on our forces to greater reliance on headline-grabbing attacks”.

Despite the Pentagon`s upbeat picture, the course of the war effort remains open to debate and some Western analysts and officials take a more pessimistic view.

Sceptics cite insurgent gains outside of the south, where a US troop build-up has been concentrated, and endemic corruption plaguing the Kabul government.

But Panetta said security generally was improving across the country, without offering specific numbers.

"While overall violence in Afghanistan is trending down -- and down substantially in areas where we concentrated our surge -- we must be more effective in stopping these (high-profile) attacks and limiting the ability of insurgents to create perceptions of decreasing security," he said.

He said the US military is "working with our Afghan counterparts to discuss with them how we can provide better protection against these attacks”.

"But the bottom line is that we can’t let these sporadic events deter us from the progress that we’ve made."

Insurgents wounded 77 American troops in a truck bombing of a NATO base this month and carried out a dramatic assault last week on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that was repelled.

At the same hearing, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said recent attacks and assassinations were designed to sow fear but did not cast doubt on the prospects for success of the NATO-led force.

"These acts of violence are as much about headlines and playing on the fears of a traumatised people, as they are about inflicting casualties -- maybe even more so," Mullen said.

"We must not misconstrue them. They are serious and significant in shaping perceptions, but they do not represent a sea change in the odds of military success."

Mullen, whose tenure as the highest-ranking military officer wraps up at the end of the month, said that the morale of the insurgents was declining and that they "are concentrating their efforts on attacks that will produce a maximal psychological impact for a minimal investment in manpower or military capability”.

With August marking the deadliest month so far in the war for US forces, with 71 troops killed, Panetta acknowledged the American casualties, saying that he felt "a heavy burden" as Pentagon chief.

Bureau Report

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