Leon Panetta claims Afghan 'surge' a success as more troops leave


The 33,000 additional US troops that President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan to suppress Taliban attacks nearly two years ago have now left the country, but a new wave of deadly insider attacks and a reassessment of how Nato troops partner with Afghans have raised questions about the military strategy.

The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, announced yesterday that the troops had come out, declaring that the "surge" had accomplished its mission. But after a tumultuous week in Afghanistan that saw commanders put limits on when Nato and Afghan troops can patrol together, Mr Panetta also acknowledged there will be difficult days ahead.

"The surge did accomplish it objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increasing the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces," Mr Panetta said on an official visit to New Zealand. The withdrawal, which was completed on schedule, still leaves close to 100,000 Nato troops in the country, including 68,000 Americans.

However, Mr Panetta's claims of success are called into question by the decision this week that, at least temporarily, Nato operations with small Afghan units are no longer routine, and will require special approval. This is in response to a growing wave of so-called insider attacks, in which Afghan Army and police troops, or insurgents dressed in their uniforms, have turned their guns on Nato forces.