Panetta: US Winning Afghan War

Posted December 14th, 2011 at 6:05 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday the United States and its allies are winning the 10-year-old war against what he calls a “very tough” Taliban-led insurgency.

Speaking to U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, Panetta said the soldiers' sacrifices are “paying off,” with insurgent violence declining to its lowest level in five years, despite recent high-profile attacks. He also said U.S.-led NATO forces have weakened the Taliban to the point where the militants have not been able to regain lost territory.

Panetta stood less than 60 kilometers from the Pakistani border as he delivered his speech. He called on Islamabad to do more to bring stability to the region. He said that “although the relationship with Pakistan is difficult, it is a necessary and important one.” Washington has accused Pakistan's security agency of supporting extremists who have launched attacks inside Afghanistan.

The defense secretary is on a two-day visit to Afghanistan to check on the progress of U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts. After meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul late Wednesday, he said those efforts reached a “very important turning point” this year.

Mr. Karzai said cooperation between NATO and Afghan forces has brought “stability” to Afghanistan, but both sides must do more to provide security to the Afghan people.

The Afghan president also said Kabul does not want to be caught in the middle of any confrontation between its western neighbor Iran and the United States. He was referring to Iran's seizure of a sophisticated U.S. drone earlier this month. U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Iran to return the aircraft, but Iranian officials have vowed to reverse-engineer it.

Washington has begun reducing its forces from Afghanistan has part of a process of transferring security control of the country to the Afghan government. Both sides are negotiating an agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country after combat forces withdraw in 2014.

In the latest violence, Afghan officials say a local government official was killed Wednesday, after his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the southern province of Helmand.