In Afghanistan, US military officials say it's now or never
In the weeks ahead in eastern Afghanistan, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers. It could be a key time for American forces, before US troops start exiting.
US military officials in Afghanistan warn that it’s now or never to make key advancements against insurgent fighters, with the surge of US forces at its zenith and the summer fighting season in full swing.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet Taliban forces in the east appear to be launching offensives of their own, with no intention of giving up easily, US military officials say.
Rates of violence bear testament to that resolve. Attacks by insurgents in the east nearly doubled between March 2010 and March 2011. That’s not unexpected, US military officials say, given the surge. They add that attacks in the month of July appear to be on a downward trajectory.
IN PICTURES: Battling the Afghan insurgency
In the weeks ahead, however, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers to continue apace in the east, where insurgents often make use of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
With 10,000 of the 30,000 US surge forces scheduled to return to the United States by year's end – the vast majority of which have been based in southern Afghanistan – there is a sense, too, that the clock is ticking for US commanders here.
“We have more forces [in Afghanistan] right now than we will ever have,” says Col. Clay Hall, commander of the US Air Force’s 455th Expeditionary Operations Group (EOG). “There’s a feeling of, ‘Let’s use them to maximum effect.’ As we pull out,” with fewer and fewer US troops on the ground, “those engagements are going to become less and less effective.”
The US military’s role in Afghanistan was to be a central point of discussion in at least two congressional hearings this week. Gen. Martin Dempsey fielded questions on the way forward in Afghanistan during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday for serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The House Armed Services Committee, on Wednesday, was to hear testimony from former military and defense officials about US activity in Afghanistan. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph should have indicated that the House Armed Services Committee hearing was on Wednesday.]
On the ground here, US commanders say they see few signs of violence abating. Military officials point to a hair-raising battle between insurgents and US troops on May 25 in the violent eastern province of Nuristan.