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An Afghan police officer stands guard near the site of an explosion in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010.
An Afghan police officer stands guard near the site of an explosion in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (Foulad Hamdard/AP)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The war in Afghanistan during spring and summer was uneven and progress was slow, but security improved across the country, especially where U.S. troops have fought the longest, the Pentagon said in its latest semiannual report to Congress.

In measured tones, the Pentagon recounted a series of incremental gains in security and civilian efforts, noting the war strategy has produced some “localized positive effects” as the military is “gradually pushing insurgents to the edges of secured population areas.”

The report is an official history of the war from April 1 to Sept. 30, when the last of 30,000 additional troops arrived.

“A lot of progress, but still a long way to go,” said a senior defense official addressing reporters on the condition of anonymity.

It also includes the tumultuous period when war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired by President Barack Obama and replaced with Gen. David Petraeus, but makes little reference to that event.

“Progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas,” the report said. “[The strategy is] beginning to have cumulative effects and security is slowly beginning to expand.”

At Saturday’s NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Obama gave a more positive assessment of the current state of the war.

“I think the objective assessment is that we have made progress,” he said. “You have fewer areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. You have the Taliban on the defensive in a number of areas that were their strongholds. We have met or exceeded our targets in terms of recruitment of Afghan security forces. And our assessments are that the performance of Afghan security forces has improved significantly.”

At the Pentagon, a senior State Department official, who also briefed reporters under the condition of anonymity, attempted to clarify the government’s assessment, saying, “I think we’re seeing an impact from the addition of those resources — clear military progress on the ground — but that that progress is fragile and that there are hurdles to get to our core objectives.”

In the period covered by the report, violence increased as more U.S. forces flooded the country and increased offensive attacks. The number of “kinetic events” — Pentagon jargon for combat engagements — increased 55 percent from the previous quarter to 4,723.

As International Security Assistance Force troops have pushed the enemy from its historical territory in Kandahar and Helmand, the insurgency has expanded in areas in the north and the west, said the senior defense official.

“The importance of those areas is not key, is not central to their success or to our ability to defeat them,” the official said.

The greatest security gains, according to the report, have come where troops have been deployed the longest.

“Six months ago, Marjah was an insurgent command-and-control center, a base for [roadside bomb] assembling, and a nexus for illegal narcotics activities. Now the city is controlled by the Afghan Government,” it says, adding that Afghans are voting, going to market and reopening schools.

The report also said its efforts at establishing the Afghan National Security Forces, already considered a risk to the ISAF strategy, could falter if NATO is unable to provide enough trainers.

NATO members have never provided all of the trainers they have pledged. The new NATO proclamation released on Saturday renewed the alliance’s commitment to the training mission.

“If not adequately addressed, this shortfall poses significant risk and threatens to delay the upcoming transition process,” the report said.

The officials said the U.S. has asked Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries on the border, and the report said Pakistan’s army approved a U.S. military presence at its regional headquarters in Quetta, but the officials would not elaborate.

The period covered by the report also includes strategic U.S. talks with Afghanistan in May, a national “peace jurga,” or meeting of tribal leaders, an international conference in Kabul on development and national parliamentary elections.

The Pentagon also provides Congress with a sweeping assessment of the many Afghan government functions the U.S. is trying to establish and strengthen. Where some areas like agriculture productivity had improved, the report noted, the Afghan government and overall development lagged behind security gains and will require long-term international support.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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