Supply routes’ closure threat to Afghan withdrawal: Pentagon
WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s decision to keep key supply routes into Afghanistan closed since Pakistani soldiers were killed by US aircraft in November 2011 have held up thousands of tonnes of equipment, the Pentagon said, and could “significantly degrade” withdrawal operations from Afghanistan. In a bi-annual report to Congress, the Defence Department said overall insurgent attacks declined in 2011 for the first time in five years, even though violence increased in areas surrounding the Taliban’s southern stronghold of Kandahar, a region where the US efforts have been focused since 2009. Overall, the Pentagon said, violence in Afghanistan decreased by nine percent in 2011 compared to 2010. The military statistics, released selectively, showed the United States moving “from us essentially losing the war to us making important progress” and seeking to consolidate those gains as foreign troops withdraw, a senior Defence Department official told reporters. Yet the report said that “long-term and acute challenges” remain in Afghanistan, including insurgents’ ability to renew their fighting power in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the ‘limited capacity’ of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government. The report’s conclusions are unlikely to extinguish doubts about whether the Obama administration can establish a stable, secure Afghanistan as Western nations press ahead with plans to withdraw most combat soldiers by the end of 2014. The US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the evolving state of the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorists would be clearer this fall, after the summer fighting season.
The Obama administration is due to pull the last of its 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by this fall, leaving around 68,000 US soldiers there.
More than 10 years after the Taliban government was toppled, the Afghan insurgency remains “a resilient and determined enemy”, the Pentagon said, likely to use high-profile attacks like the 18-hour siege of Kabul on April 15 to shake public confidence.
As the NATO force grows smaller, the Western strategy now hinges on its ability to transform an inexperienced, ill-equipped Afghan army into a professional fighting force that can face off against insurgents alone.
The Defence Department reported that more Afghan police units were considered capable of operating with minimal Western support, even though local forces remain hindered by attrition, poor leadership and inadequate management.
A year after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a unilateral US raid in Pakistan, the Pentagon said the group had been ‘degraded’, but the group retains a small presence in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. The Obama administration also continues to grapple with what the Pentagon described as “selective counterinsurgency operations” by the Pakistani government, which US officials have long complained refuses to help the US hunt down Taliban terrorists whose interests may align with its own. reuters