Afghan War Review Called Likely to Show Progresshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/
KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior defense official said Tuesday that a year-end White House review of American strategy in Afghanistan was expected to declare progress in the nine-year-old war and conclude that a surge in United States forces had expanded security in the south and around the capital, Kabul.
But the official said the review would also conclude that the fight was far from over, even though President Obama remained committed to beginning the withdrawal of some United States forces in July 2011. “Clearly, there is a good deal more to be done,” the official said.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could talk freely about a process that was still under way, was describing what was widely expected to be the conclusion of the review, due later this month. But his comments were more specific than those made recently by senior administration officials.
The official spoke to reporters traveling in Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, whose spokesman, Geoff Morrell, warned that the White House review was not complete and therefore it was “premature to draw any definitive conclusions.”
Still, the specter of the review dominated Mr. Gates’s day in Afghanistan as the military offered differing judgments of the war. In Kabul, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in the country, gave reporters an upbeat assessment. But his commanders on the porous eastern border with Pakistan described a brutal fight with rising American casualties and a sharp increase in violence from a year ago.
The contrasting pictures pointed to the uneven course of the fighting and to some extent the military leadership’s attempt to shape public opinion ahead of the White House review.
General Petraeus told reporters: “We believe that we have arrested the momentum of the Taliban in many parts of Afghanistan, but not all,” and that there had been important progress in recent months.
Hours earlier at an American base in the rugged, isolated terrain of Kunar Province, Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of United States forces in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters that the fight was “very, very kinetic,” creating questions in his mind about whether it was safe for Mr. Gates to travel there.
“We dropped nine bombs here yesterday. I had to decide whether I would bring the secretary even up here,” General Campbell told reporters, speaking at Forward Operating Base Joyce.
Lt. Col. J. B. Vowell, commander of the Second Battalion, 327th Infantry, told Mr. Gates in a briefing at the base that violence in June had increased by 200 percent over last year and that insurgents were fighting hard to try to gain negotiating strength in anticipated reconciliation talks, although none are under way.
The base is about two miles west of the border with Pakistan and about five miles east of the Korengal Valley, the site of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. American forces abandoned the Korengal in April.
General Campbell said his troops were making progress, but “a lot of the reason we get attacked is because we’re up here.” The goal of United States forces is to disrupt insurgent activity in the border area, but the general said he wanted to get to the point where he could withdraw troops from the remote mountains and reposition them in small towns to try to win over the local people.
“People don’t want us up there, but they don’t want the Taliban either,” he said. “They want to be left alone.”
He added that the region was vast and that his forces could not be everywhere. “We can’t be in every single valley; I mean there’s thousands of them out there, we just can’t do it,” he said.
At the same base, Mr. Gates made emotional remarks to about 300 soldiers. “I feel the sacrifice and hardship and losses more than you’ll ever imagine,” he told them, adding, “I just want to thank you and tell you how much I love you guys.”
From there Mr. Gates traveled to Forward Operating Base Connolly in Nangahar Province, where he met privately with members of the platoon that lost six soldiers last week when an Afghan Border Police trainee turned his gun on them and killed them. The soldiers were operating near the base when they were shot; it was one of the worst attacks by an Afghan service member on NATO forces in the war.
Capt. Cyle Alden, a military planner at the base, said that the attack had been a deep loss. “We’ve all had friends killed, but nothing prepares you for something like that,” he said. He said that American troops had built close relationships with the Afghan security forces, but that the attack had made him think twice.“It’s always in the back of your head,” he said.