Are Taliban getting stronger?

LA Times:

A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.

The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country's Western-backed government.

But the Pentagon said it remained optimistic that its counter-insurgency strategy, formed after an Obama administration review last year, and its effort to peel foot soldiers away from the Taliban will show success in months to come.

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The new report offers a grim take on the likely difficulty of establishing lasting security, especially in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency enjoys broad support. The conclusions raise the prospect that the insurgency in the south may never be completely vanquished, but instead must be contained to prevent it from threatening the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The report concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai's government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes.

U.S.-led military operations have had "some success in clearing insurgents from their strongholds, particularly in central Helmand," the report said. But it adds: "The insurgent tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce local governance."

The report concurs with earlier findings by the U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and others that violence in Afghanistan began to level off in the first months of 2010. But the Pentagon also notes that Afghan insurgents consider 2009, Obama's first year in office, to be their most successful year because of their ability to increase the level of violence.

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We have had good success at degrading the Taliban command and control structure and decapitating much of its leadership. Where we are not doing well is in protecting the population after the Taliban have been driven from an area. We need to have more and tighter check points to stop their reentry. We also probably need to establish curfews to stop their movement back into the communities.

We also need to improve our intelligence gathering. We are being too often deceived into attacks on people not a part of the Taliban.

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