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Petraeus Says NATO Reversing Taliban's Momentum In Afghanistan

General David Petraeus (left, with Pakistani General Ashfaq Kayani) also repeated his view that the drawdown in U.S. and NATO forces, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will not result in a swift withdrawal.
General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, says the Taliban's momentum in various regions of Afghanistan "has been reversed."

Speaking to the BBC, Petraeus said that Western forces were working to take away the sanctuaries and safe havens that the Taliban had established over years. He predicted that U.S. and NATO forces would continue to reverse the insurgents' gains, but that this would "entail tough fighting."

Kabul-based Afghan analyst Wahid Mozhdah, who formerly worked in the Taliban regime's Foreign Ministry, disputes Petraeus's assertion, saying it was likely for U.S. domestic consumption and did not reflect the situation on the ground.

"I think that the Americans are now trying to show their people that they are succeeding in improving the overall situation in Afghanistan," Mozhdah says. "Thus, their compatriots are the main audiences for such talk but inside Afghanistan people do not see that such a thing [Taliban being defeated] is happening."

Mozhdah, author of a book about the Taliban regime, adds that the intensifying Western military campaign has caused resentment among some Afghans who view it as causing more harm to the civilians than the insurgents.

Petraeus has further tightened the rules of engagement implemented by his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, in an effort to minimize civilian casualties by errant Western air strikes and artillery bombardments.

Due to these efforts, civilian casualties have declined, but continue to be an emotional issue in Afghanistan.

Same Old Shock And Awe

Mozhdah says, however, that McChrystal's strategy of winning Afghan hearts and minds was never fully implemented and that Western forces continue to rely heavily on overwhelming firepower to defeat the insurgents.

"America is groping in the dark in Afghanistan. They talk about something one day and another thing the next day. Everybody who comes here says that they are defeating the Taliban," the former Taliban official says.

"But the Taliban are now knocking at the gates of Kabul. Now, what kind of defeat are they inflicting on the Taliban that we cannot see and feel?"

Petraeus also repeated his view that the drawdown in U.S. and NATO forces, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will not result in a swift withdrawal.

"July the date when a process begins. It is not the date when the U.S. forces begin an exodus and look for the exit and a light to turn out," Petraeus said.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.