Continued from page 1

The four-star general’s job may have gotten tougher last week, when James L. Jones, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, quit as Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. He will be succeeded by Thomas Donilon, a Democratic Party operative and lawyer who served as Gen. Jones’ deputy and who opposed more troops for Afghanistan, which puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

In a recent NPR interview, Gen. Petraeus cited the Malajat district in Kandahar city as an area infested with Taliban but now controlled by U.S. and Afghan forces.

“A month ago, it was a sanctuary for certain elements of the Taliban who were carrying out assassinations, intimidation activities, extortion and a variety of other illicit acts,” he said. “They largely controlled it. That Malajat district was [one] in which the Taliban had freedom of movement, freedom of access, and again, considerable influence in that area.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the top Marine in Afghanistan, who is focused on retaking Helmand, has been guarded about war progress. But last week at a change-of-command ceremony, he declared, according to press reports: “We’re hurting the enemy, and we’re hurting him badly. For every casualty we suffer, the enemy suffers numerous casualties.”

Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations analyst who advises the command in Afghanistan, like Gen. Keane, has seen territorial gains.

“There are places that had been deeply Taliban-held that are now certainly contested and in some places increasingly government-controlled, like the central Helmand River Valley for example,” he said on the council’s website. “This may happen increasingly over coming weeks and months in previously dangerous parts of Kandahar province, where progress has not been as fast as many had hoped.”

Mr. Biddle said the Obama administration made a mistake in calling out Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly for rampant corruption, which embarrassed him in front of his people and forced him to lash out at Washington.

Now, the U.S. command and State Department have embarked on a “bottom-up” strategy to try to root out corruption network by network, he said.

There are still plenty of skeptics, given the rampant government corruption, Pakistan’s inability to stop the Taliban from infiltrating Afghanistan, and the mixed loyalties of Afghan police and army. The Taliban issued a statement last week on the war’s ninth anniversary claiming they control 75 percent of Afghanistan.

Robert Maginnis, a military analyst and Army consultant, said “big problems” exist. Mr. Obama’s 2009 Afghan strategy put new emphasis on Pakistan-U.S. cooperation in defeating the Taliban. Yet, elements of Islamabad’s intelligence service are still helping the Taliban, according to a London School of Economics study.

“Pakistan is not helping our efforts, and Obama made Islamabad a major part of the solution,” he said. “Part of the problem with Pakistan is the major distraction created by the floods, but also because the civilian government is utterly incompetent.”

Mr. Maginnis also said that if Mr. Obama insists on the July 2011 deadline, it will result in the Taliban simply returning from Pakistan to retake villages and cities.

“We may spend more blood and treasure in the counterinsurgency, but next summer there will be little to show for the investment other than a few population centers enjoying some security but little governance and an economy,” he said.

Still, Gen. Keane said he sees Marines and soldiers methodically taking territory once controlled by the Taliban.

“We’ve made significant progress in Helmand province,” he said. “The Marines will continue to make progress as they push farther north, as well. The effort in the south, in Kandahar, is just beginning.”