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The momentum in Afghanistan is firmly on the side of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, a Pentagon report released Friday said, but officials admit that violence there is rising and the fighting season ahead could be the worst yet.

The Taliban insurgency has been dealt heavy blows since the U.S. troop surge last year, a senior defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It controls less area than it did, it controls significantly less of the population than it did, and that it has been removed from key areas – especially the districts around Kandahar – that they had controlled since the mid-’90s,” he said.

In order for the Taliban to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with to the Afghan population, “they’re going to have to respond,” he said.

Senior NATO officials said they had received intelligence that the Taliban has planned major attacks for the coming days, Associated Press reported Friday.

With planning under way for a U.S. troop drawdown beginning in July, the defense official said, the Pentagon’s current measure of success or failure in Afghanistan is not the level of violence. The measure is success in setting up security and civil institutions and winning popular support for those reforms, he said.

“Our objective in this war is not to kill every Taliban,” he said. “Our objective is for there to be a political process that is Afghan-led and results in the Afghans coming up with their own way forward.”

Since September, according to the newly released report, Afghanistan has added more than 36,000 army and police recruits. About 75 percent of the Afghan National Police units are able to operate effectively in conjunction with coalition advisers, though none yet is considered able to operate independently. About 95 percent of Afghan National Army units were operating alongside coalition troops, the report said.

A lack of trainers for specialized functions, including medicine and logistics, has hampered the effort to make the Afghan forces self-sustaining, the report said. Much of the training has focused on fighting, and with the ability of Afghan forces developing, fewer foreign troops will be needed to supervise and assist them in the field, the senior official said.

By summer, the report predicted, Afghan security forces will be ready to take the lead on security in seven regions of the country.

carrollc@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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