- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2011

A biannual report to Congress on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan said that the Obama administration’s surge of forces that began in 2009 produced “tangible security progress” in the war-torn Southwest Asian state.

The report’s optimistic tone contrasts with reports this week in Afghanistan that revealed that more than 450 detainees held at a high-security prison in Kabul escaped through a hidden tunnel. On Wednesday, a disgruntled Afghan pilot working for Kabul government force opened fired on U.S. airmen, killing eight.

Despite these recent incidents, the report is cautiously optimistic.

“The coalition’s efforts have wrested major safe havens from the insurgents’ control, disrupted their leadership networks, and removed many of the weapons caches and tactical supplies they left behind at the end of the previous fighting season,” the report stated.

It also said the Taliban’s influence is on the wane. “The Taliban remained enormously unpopular in Afghanistan during this period, with 75 percent of the population believing it would be bad for the country if the Taliban returned to power,” the report said.

The last report found 68 percent of the country opposed the return to power of the Taliban.

On the battlefield, the report also stated that key areas that were previously geographic strongholds for Taliban insurgents switched sides. One way the report measured the shift was by counting fielded Afghan police units. In September 2010, only eight such localities had Afghan police. Today 34 localities have Afghan local police units.

The report said Afghanistan’s political and economic development remains uneven. It also warned that corruption and lack of governance capacity at the provincial level made it difficult to deliver goods and human services to the Afghan population.

“At the provincial and district levels, slow development of governance capacity continues to hamper both the reach of the Afghan Government and its effectiveness,” the report said.

“Corruption and criminal patronage networks continue to undermine state institutions, and allegations of voter fraud in the September 2010 elections and delays in seating the newly-elected parliament until January 2011 undermined perceptions of legitimacy.”

Ultimately the ability of local and provincial governments in Afghanistan to deliver security and other services to the population will be the main measure for when coalition troops can leave, according to counter-insurgency theory. That theory says credible institutions are needed to win the population’s cooperation with local police against an insurgency.

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday that “there’s going to be some very tough days ahead, just as there have been tough days in the past.”

This official said that there were improvements in terms of fighting corruption and civil service reform.

“It’s a big improvement from before: the efforts at civil-service reform, civil-service training that are bringing those people and the willingness of people to serve in those areas, because in the immediate aftermath of fighting, civilian officials are reluctant to go places where they might be killed,” the official said.

“However, their willingness to serve in those areas is — has been dramatically increased over the last 12 months.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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