US war review claims gains against Taliban, Al Qaeda


WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama’s Afghan troop surge has made progress in curbing the Taliban and severely weakening Al Qaeda, but US gains are not yet durable and sustainable, a new policy review said on Thursday.
The long-awaited assessment says that some aspects of the high-stakes strategy are working well, after a year of record bloodshed, but many of the advances in the nine-year war remain fragile and reversible.
The report, which Obama is set to unveil today (Thursday), says that after a relentless US campaign Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan is weaker than at any stage of the war launched after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Progress will permit a “responsible reduction” to begin of US forces in Afghanistan, currently at nearly 100,000, next July, though a full handover to Afghan security is not envisaged until at least 2014, the review said.
And the always testing US anti-terror alliance with Pakistan has been “substantial” but also “uneven” in the last year, since Obama vowed to forge a new relationship of mutual trust and respect with Islamabad, the report said.
The review, the product of a two-month period of assessment of all aspects of US war strategy, comes nine years into the longest US war abroad, which is taking an ever increasing toll on US troops and Afghan civilians.
Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai ahead of the report’s release, with both stressing a “focus on the sanctuary of terrorists”, the Afghan government said.
The phrase is an apparent reference to the Tribal Areas on the Afghan border, which is a base for Taliban fighters operating in Afghanistan and the global headquarters of Al Qaeda. According to an overview of the report the White House released, no major shifts in strategy are planned or needed, though some aspects of the US approach, especially in Pakistan, should be adjusted. “Most important, Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001,” the document said. “In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programmes.
“And in Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.”
“While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of Al Qaeda, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable.”
Obama, for whom the Afghan war is a prime foreign policy challenge and a vital plank of his eventual presidential legacy, was due to directly address the report before reporters at the White House later on Thursday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were then to offer a detailed briefing into the war effort.