US president expected to report that progress is being made, despite an increase in violence.
|National Intelligence Estimates offer more negative assessment than US government’s review is about to unveil [AFP]|
As Barack Obama, the US president, prepares to release a review of military strategy in Afghanistan, two classified US intelligence reports on the region have offered a pessimistic view of the chances of success.
The intelligence assessments, the New York Times newspaper reported on Wednesday, would seem at odds with claims from the defence department and White House officials that US and NATO troops are making progress against the Taliban.
The National Intelligence Estimates (NIE), represent the consensus view of 16 domestic intelligence agencies without military input and are intended for congressional committees.
The two separate documents, one dealing with Afghanistan and the other with neighbouring Pakistan, detail concerns that the US-led fight against the Taliban could fail unless Islamabad takes a much more active role along its border with Afghanistan.
The reports suggest that recent military progress is undermined by a weak and corrupt Afghan government and Pakistan’s reluctance to crackdown on rebels hiding on its side of the border.
Obama was keen to talk up progress on the eve of the release of the strategy review, which is expected to cement a timetable for gradual withdrawal and the handover of security to Afghan forces in 2014.
In a letter to congressional leaders summarising US military operations overseas, he said US and NATO forces were “gradually pushing insurgents to the edges of secured population areas in a number of important regions, largely resulting from the increase in US forces over the past year”.
“US and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces will continue to execute the strategy of clear-shape-hold-build, and transition, until conditions on the ground allow for the full transition of the lead in operations to the Afghan National Security Forces.”
Obama has sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan over the last year, boosting the number of foreign troops to about 150,000, in an attempt to turn the tide in the battle with the Taliban.
However, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) gave a grim assessment of conditions in the country on Wednesday.
The ICRC said growing civilian casualties, internal displacement and poor medical care have created a dire humanitarian situation and are likely to persist into next year.
The group said many areas of Afghanistan, particularly in the north, were now inaccessible not only for the ICRC but for the hundreds of other aid groups.
“The proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organisations to access those in need,” Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, said.
“Access for the ICRC has over the last 30 years never been as poor.
|Leaked intelligence reports claim Pakistan’s unwillingness to close rebel sanctuaries remains a serious obstacle [AP]|
“The sheer fact the ICRC has organised a press conference … is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever-growing number of people in by now almost the entire country.”
The ICRC said it expected fighting to increase in the coming year just as it had in 2010, the deadliest year of the war since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.
On Wednesday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said its aircraft had accidentally killed an Afghan civilian and wounded two children after a patrol came under attack in southern Helmand province on Tuesday.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces have long caused friction between Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and his international allies, although the numbers caused by ISAF troops have fallen since the rules for using air strikes were tightened.
Separately, ISAF said a homemade bomb – the most deadly weapon used by rebels – killed three Afghan children and wounded nine people on Wednesday in neighbouring Kandahar.