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“All of these have contributed to reducing the vulnerability of our troops and reducing the casualties,” he said. “But the casualties are still too high.”

As the surge forces leave villages this summer, a big challenge for NATO is to watch how the Taliban react and whether they step up IED attacks.

“The Taliban have been unambiguous in that they intend to take advantage of the removal of the surge forces, and so we have planned for that,” Gen. Allen said Sunday. “If we detect that there is, in fact, a Taliban presence beginning to surge in behind our forces, we have forces that are available that we intend to put against that to prevent that from happening.

Bill Roggio, who edits the Long War Journal for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said a decrease in fatalities does not always tell the full story.

“Attacks are down overall nationwide and Afghan forces are being pushed to the fore as well, so this may also factor in to the lower numbers of U.S. deaths,” he said. “Casualties are not the best way to judge the strength or weakness of an insurgency.”

The U.S. has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a surge peak of 100,000. By the end of September, another 23,000 are scheduled to exit. Members of the Obama administration are debating the size of the force for 2013. Most U.S. combat forces are expected to leave in 2014.