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War in Afghanistan: Pentagon report cites 'progress,' provides little

The Pentagon's semiannual report to Congress on the war in Afghanistan has 'progress' in the title but little elsewhere. Instead, it chronicles corruption, violence, and a growing insurgency.

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Much of that corruption, senior defense officials concede, is the result of US-funded contractors, who may inadvertently be funneling money to the Taliban. “A lot of what we’re doing is, when we talk about the issue of corruption and enabling people, we need to look in the mirror first and see what we’re doing,” said the senior defense official.

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This is a complicated prospect, he added. So, too, is the training of Afghan security forces, though it was one of the rare upbeat points in the Pentagon report. As of September, growth in the Afghan army and police force “are among Afghanistan’s most promising areas of progress.”

Attrition, however, remains a problem, as does a shortage of NATO trainers ­– a shortage “that will grow more acute through the fall and into next year, if troop contributions do not meet the growing need for training.… This shortfall poses significant strategic risk and threatens to delay the upcoming transition process.”

Even as the Obama administration steps away from July 2011 as a departure date of any consequence for US troops, senior officials in the briefing this week were reluctant to discuss the 2014 date that was put forward by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a new goal for US combat troops to leave the country.

When asked by a reporter about the US “exit strategy” for Afghanistan, the senior defense official took issue with the term. “We don’t have an exit strategy. We have a transition strategy. The US commitment to Afghanistan is continuing, enduring, and long-lasting.”

The reporter suggested a rephrasing: “How about the exit of combat troops?”

Countered a senior State Department official, “How about the transition to Afghan control?”

It is clear that any such transition depends on progress in the country. The latest nationwide survey, cited in the report, finds that “48 percent of Afghans polled said that Afghanistan is heading in the right direction.”

What is left unsaid in the report is that the other half of the country does not – and that remains the ongoing challenge for US commanders on the ground.


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