The U.S. Defense Department has hailed success on the battlefield by Afghan forces and urged Taliban insurgents to embrace "peace and political legitimacy" through a negotiated settlement with the government in Kabul.
The comments came this week in the Pentagon’s semiannual report to Congress, the first since President Donald Trump on August 21 announced his new strategy for Afghanistan and the South Asia region.
The Pentagon said in the report given to Congress on December 15 that U.S. and Afghan “sources indicate this fighting season has been more successful than the last."
“During this reporting period [June 1, 2017, to November 30], the Taliban was unable to threaten any provincial centers, lost control of key districts, and the ANDSF retained control of all major population centers," it said, referring to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan had said in early summer that the conflict was in a "stalemate" as Afghan security forces struggled to hold back the Taliban and other extremist groups in the country.
The report said the major change in U.S. policy under Trump from "our previous strategy is the shift from a time-based approach to a conditions-based one."
"This strategy is a clear signal of U.S. resolve and a break with the previous administration’s focus on a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan," it added.
"Our purpose in Afghanistan remains the same," the report said. It is "to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven from which terrorist groups can plan and execute attacks on the United States, or our allies, and citizens abroad."
It said the goal remains the same as in 2001: "a stable, independent Afghanistan at peace with its neighbors."
"The objective of the campaign is to convince the Taliban that they cannot win on the battlefield. The war will end in a comprehensive, Afghan-led political settlement that will include all parties, including the Taliban."
"The Taliban cannot win on the battlefield. They must know that their only path to peace and political legitimacy is through a negotiated settlement with the Afghan government," it said.
The Pentagon said it had a "willing and able partner" in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
"In conjunction with the new U.S. strategy, he launched with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and U.S. forces in Afghanistan a process to create and monitor reforms in four priority sectors: governance, economic development, security, and the peace process."
It cited Ghani’s "long-term plan to seize the initiative in the fight against insurgent and terrorist forces, further professionalize the ANDSF, modify the ANDSF force structure, and compel the Taliban to seek reconciliation."
Under its new South Asia strategy, the Pentagon said the United States had deployed "modest numbers" of additional forces to support the train, advise, and assist, and for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan.
The United States has about 14,000 uniformed personnel in Afghanistan, an increase of some 3,000 from the previous reporting period, it said.
It cautioned, though, that "our commitment is enduring but not unlimited. Our support is not a blank check.
"As long as the Afghan government continues to show real progress and make real reforms, we will continue to support them as our strategic partners in the fight against international terrorism."
The United States has been in Afghanistan since 2001, when it led an invasion to drive the Taliban from power after it said the group's leaders were sheltering Al-Qaeda militants responsible for the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
U.S. forces have remained as part of a NATO-led coalition ever since, although active combat operations were turned over to Afghan forces in 2014, and international troop levels have fallen from a peak of more than 100,000 to about 16,000.