Thu December 16, 2010
The Two-Way

Afghan Review Cites 'Fragile And Reversible' Progress

The Obama administration released Thursday the strategic review that the president ordered last year of the war in Afghanistan.

Among the main findings:

"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."


"Consolidating those gains will require that we make more progress with Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries for violent extremist networks."

The review also says that al-Qaida continues to be a threat despite "significant progress" against the group in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It says al-Qaida's senior leadership has been depleted, its safe haven is smaller and less secure and its ability to plan and carry out terrorist operations has been reduced.

But it says the U.S. strategy remains focused on Pakistan-based al-Qaida because of the type of threat posed by its leadership.

"We believe core al-Qa'ida continues to view the United States homeland as its principal target, and events over the past year indicate some of its affiliates and allies also are more aggressively pursuing such attacks. Although the global affiliates and allies of al-Qa'ida also threaten the U.S. homeland and interests, Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to be the operational base for the group that attacked us on 9/11. The presence of nuclear weapons in the region also lends to its distinct status, highlighting the importance of working with regional partners to prevent extremists, including core al-Qa'ida, from acquiring such weapons or materials."

The review examines the progress in the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which is called "substantial, but also uneven." It says the two countries targeted al-Qaida in six of Pakistan's seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the region that borders Afghanistan. It also notes that the gains came at a great cost to Pakistan, which endured military and civilian casualties from terrorist attacks.

But, the review adds:

"Better balance and integration of the various components of our strategy will be required to reach our objectives. For instance, the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan."

In Afghanistan, the review says, conditions are being set to begin transition to Afghan security lead in 2011. Gains are also being made against the Taliban, it says.

"Progress is most evident in the gains Afghan and coalition forces are making in clearing the Taliban heartland of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in the significantly increased size and improved capability of the Afghan National Security Forces."

NPR's Rachel Martin has more in today's Morning Edition.

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET. As Rachel reports:

"The overall thrust of Thursday's report has been hinted at for months. Back in June, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said his top commander at the time, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was on the right track. ... Administration officials say this review is not a referendum on the strategy itself, but on how it's being implemented — a gut check on what's working and what's not. ... The big challenge is figuring out how to make the gains stick. The review acknowledges that 'the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable'."

And here are headlines from elsewhere:

-- The New York Times: "Afghan Report Sees July Troop Pullouts Despite Perils."

-- The Wall Street Journal: "U.S. War Review Finds Fragile Progress In Afghanistan."

-- The Washington Post: "July Troop Withdrawal On Track, Review Of Afghan War Strategy Indicates."

-- FoxNews.com: "Military Officials Downplay July Withdrawal Date In Afghan War Review."

-- MSNBC.com: "Afghan War Review: Al-Qaida And Taliban Weakened." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.