BRUSSELS – NATO is at an “important stage” in the war in Afghanistan, with insurgents losing ground while Afghan forces grow in strength as foreign troops gradually go home, a top general said Wednesday.
Painting a positive picture of developments on the ground, British Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of the NATO-led operation, said enemy attacks were down 10 percent in 2011 and expected to continue fading until foreign combat troops leave in late 2014.
“We are at an important stage in the campaign where as we start to hand over more and more responsibility to our Afghan partners, we are finding that the insurgents are under pressure,” he told reporters via videolink from Kabul.
“Their momentum has been reversed and we expect that progress to be maintained through this coming late spring and summer and on towards our eventual handover of combat operations completely to the Afghan national security forces in late 2014,” Bradshaw added.
Although the Taliban were able to mount an attack in Kabul last week, Bradshaw said Afghan forces successfully dealt with the assault on their own.
He also stressed that it was the first successful incursion into the capital in seven months, though insurgents have “almost continuously” tried to hit the city.
Over the past seven months, nearly 400 insurgents involved in plots to invade the capital have been arrested or killed, the general said.
Efforts to integrate former rebels into civil society have also made progress, with a 40 percent increase in people joining a reintegration programme since December, that now totals more than 4,000 former insurgents, he said.
NATO plans to give Afghan security forces the lead across the nation some time next year, paving the way for foreign combat troops to leave by the end of 2014.
Bradshaw said the transition process is “holding very strongly” but that the alliance would wait for “clarity” about France’s intentions after its May 6 presidential election.
Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, the frontrunner, has vowed to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012, one year earlier than President Nicolas Sarkozy.