Safe havens in northwest Pakistan prevent U.S., allied and Afghanistan forces from dealing a “decisive defeat” to insurgents, according to a Pentagon assessment.
Pakistan-based sanctuary for insurgents such as the Haqqani network, as well as the financial and operation support insurgents receive from various sources, keep security volatile along Afghanistan’s eastern border, the Defense Department said yesterday in a semi-annual report required by Congress.
The document provides an unclassified snapshot of the war in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to assess how many troops will be withdrawn next year of the remaining 66,000 U.S. personnel and how many will remain after most depart by the end of 2014. The report covers April 1 through September 30.
“The Taliban-led insurgency and its al-Qaeda affiliates still operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan,” according to the report’s executive summary. “The insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan, the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government and endemic corruption remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security in Afghanistan.”
The safe havens in Pakistan persist despite improving ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as better U.S.-Pakistan relations, a U.S. defense official said yesterday at a Pentagon news briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss considerations behind the report.
The continuing threats to allied forces were underscored over the weekend when a U.S. commando was killed in an operation that rescued Dilip Joseph, a U.S. doctor who was captured at a rural medical clinic in eastern Kabul province operated by Monitor Star Development, a nonprofit group based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Pentagon yesterday identified the commando who died as Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, who was assigned to an East Coast Naval Special Warfare unit. The unit is known informally as SEAL Team Six, the commando team that participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The report issued yesterday cites positive developments, including transferring responsibilities to Afghans, who have taken the security lead for 76 percent of the population, according to the Pentagon.
“The coalition and our Afghan partners blunted the insurgent summer offensive, continued to transition the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) into security lead, pushed violence out of most populated areas, and coalition member nations signed several international agreements to support the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan,” according to the report’s summary.
Afghan security forces have carried out some independent operations relying on their own equipment, intelligence and air support using Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, the U.S. defense official said. The Pentagon helped Afghanistan buy the Russian helicopters.
By the end of September, one Afghan brigade and about 20 kandaks, or battalions, were ranked as being capable of operating independently with advisers, according to the report.
While relations between Pakistan and the U.S. are improving, the report said, “tensions remain” one year after a November 24, 2011, cross-border incident when U.S. forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The International Security Assistance Force also faced a rise in so-called insider attacks. The attacks by Afghan soldiers on coalition forces have “the potential to adversely affect the coalition’s political landscape,” according to the Pentagon.
The report highlighted a slight increase in enemy attacks from April to September compared with the comparable six months last year because of “a shortened poppy harvest employing low- level insurgents far less than in past years.” Such enemy attacks are occurring mostly outside populated areas, the report found.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials have increased efforts to identify troops likely to carry out insider attacks, the U.S. defense official said. While such incidents have declined in the last few months compared with earlier in the year, U.S. and allied forces still face the risk of attacks by Afghan forces, the official said.
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