The Taliban are divided and in retreat, insist top US officials

 

Tarin Kot, Afghanistan

Two of the most powerful American officials in Afghanistan have insisted that the Taliban are in retreat with its leadership divided, contradicting claims by senior figures in Washington that the insurgency has actually grown stronger since Barack Obama authorised the surge of forces two years ago.

The remarkably confident assessment by the two officials – General John Allen, the head of international forces in the country, and the US ambassador, Ryan Crocker – comes weeks ahead of a crucial summit in Chicago to set up the blueprint for Nato's exit path from the long and costly war and organise a support system for Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, the chairs respectively of the Senate and House intelligence committees, recently visited Afghanistan and said on Sunday that the Taliban still controlled swathes of the country and could be in a position to attempt to seize back power in the future. But Mr Crocker and General Allen insisted that the real risk to a stable post-conflict landscape would come if the international community failed to provide the necessary funding for the Afghan military and the country's infrastructure.

"There is pretty clear evidence that the surge has accomplished a great deal," Gen Allen told The Independent during a visit to Uruzgan province. "It has not been just a surge of military, but a surge of capacity building. The Afghan security forces have made tremendous progress and they are moving into the lead very effectively. They are having tremendous success in the battlefield and this will continue."

Gen Allen held that many in the insurgent ranks are seeking peace. "They see their leaders safe in Pakistan while they are doing the fighting. We have seen how the process of reintegration is progressing," he said. "This time last year we had 600 to 700 going home, now this is more than 4,000."

The current focus is on Chicago, where one of the main aims will be to work out the future strength of the Afghan security forces. It is due to reach 352,000 by the autumn, with plans to reduce them to about 230,000 after Nato leaves, primarily for cost reasons. A smaller force would mean a reduction of the budget from $6bn (£3.7bn) to $4.2bn.

Mr Crocker said the numbers of Afghan forces should be kept to the higher limit until the security situation allowed a cutback, and stressed that a premature reduction would risk losing what had been gained by the "sacrifice of blood and treasure". He said funding of the final total should continue as long as necessary.

"Because if we decide that we're done, it's taking too long, and costs too much, and we're tired and don't want to do it anymore and back out of this before we give the Afghans the means ... then we have set the stage for the next 9/11," he said in Kabul. "So a little bit of reinvestment that can assure us all that Afghanistan will be able to secure its own future is, I think, not too much to ask."

There was agreement between Mr Crocker and the Congressional leaders about the threat posed to Afghanistan by insurgents based in Pakistan. Ms Feinstein and Mr Rogers want the Haqqani Network – which the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, has been accused of backing – to be prescribed as a terrorist organisation.

And the US ambassador, who said the Pakistani safe havens remained "the single biggest obstacle to peace", rejected calls from Islamabad for an American apology over an air strike following a cross-border shooting in which 22 Pakistani soldiers were killed.

"I would have to tell you, having had my embassy in Kabul attacked twice by Pakistan-based insurgents – and this is American soil – I'm not really much inclined toward an apology." He added: "I have also been to Miranshah [in Pakistan] and seen just how close geographically the Haqqani base is to ISI headquarters in the area."

The apprehension caused by a drawdown of Afghan forces with the renewed attacks by insurgents was forcefully pointed out to Gen Allen by the head of the Uruzgan elders council, Haji Saktar Mohammed Shah at a meeting.

"Our village was in such a dangerous area that neither the army nor the police dared to go there," he said. "But now things are so much better that even one policeman can go there by walking. But now we are told the police taksil (numbers) are to be cut. This will put us back in danger, please don't let this happen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor