US claims progress against al-Qa'ida but gains 'fragile'
THE WHITE House claimed yesterday that the American-led allies were making enough progress against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban for the planned "responsible" withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan to begin in the middle of next year.
But a long-anticipated review issued almost exactly 12 months after President Barack Obama announced the temporary dispatch of 30,000 extra US troops, warns that the gains are fragile and reversible.
It highlights two crucial problems: chronic corruption and poor government in the country, and the failure of the US and its nominal ally Pakistan to root out Taliban sanctuaries in that country.
The report said the US and its allies have blunted the Taliban's momentum and forced it onto the defensive in many key areas, and that al-Qa'ida's top leadership, believed to be in hiding in Pakistan, is now weaker and under greater pressure than at any point since it fled Afghanistan in late 2001. Nine years later, however, the war -- now the longest in US history -- continues.
Even if the claimed gains can be consolidated, US troops will be in Afghanistan at least until 2014, the theoretical target date for when the Kabul government is supposed to take complete control of the country's security.
In the meantime, however, 2010 has already proved the bloodiest year yet for US and NATO forces, while civilian deaths are running at record levels. Yesterday alone, a roadside bomb killed 14 civilians in western Afghanistan, while four Afghan soldiers were killed in a night-time US air strike.
On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that the worsening violence had made it more difficult than at any time in three decades for aid groups to reach people in need.
The review noted, moreover, that even if the 2014 date was met, the US would still have to "support Afghanistan's development and security as a strategic partner" in the future, implying a continuing military involvement in the country even after an official end to combat operations.
Some 140,000 NATO troops are deployed in Afghanistan, 100,000 of them American.
But the crux remains, as the review acknowledges, Washington's extraordinarily tricky relationship with Pakistan, described as "central" to success in the region.
Those ties are now said, with some understatement, to be "uneven". (© Independent News Service)