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2011 a year of challenges for U.S. in Afghanistan

01-15-2011 12:52 BJT

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Hurdles abound this year for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, as U.S. and NATO forces are gearing up for what officials believe will be a year more violent than 2010.

"We know that things are likely to get harder before they get any easier," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday at a press conference in Washington. "It is a very difficult fight ... It clearly continues to be severe."

Notwithstanding, there has been progress.

Mullen said all the troops that U.S. President Barack Obama ordered are on the ground; more U.S. State Department officials are fanning out nationwide; and U.S. allies continue to send trainers to prepare Afghan forces for an eventual takeover of security duties.

The war torn country is also witnessing the beginnings of local governance in places where it did not exist a few months ago, he said.

The Taliban have lost momentum in parts of Afghanistan's south and east, and development of Afghan National Security Forces is progressing more rapidly than expected.

PAKISTAN CRUCIAL, BUT TRUST DEFICIT EXISTS

In spite of those gains, Mullen emphasized that the United States will see myriad challenges this year.

One of those is to figure out how neighboring Pakistan will fit into the picture, as the country is home to an area of Taliban safe haven, experts said.

And while analysts said victory in Afghanistan cannot happen without Pakistan, there remains a trust deficit between the two allies.

"We need Pakistani cooperation in doing well in Afghanistan. But the Pakistanis are reluctant to provide cooperation until they get an idea of what (the American) endgame is," said Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, during a panel discussion in Washington on Thursday.

"They're not quite sure what our goals are in Afghanistan, whether we're going to do a deal and get out, leaving them holding the baby," he said.

Pakistan is unsure of U.S. intentions, and has seen the United States come and go from the region, leaving Pakistan to clean up the mess, critics said.

For their part, U.S. officials have also in the past harbored mistrust for Pakistan, questioning its leaders' commitment toward fighting terror groups.

Answering a reporter's question of whether Pakistan is doing enough to combat the problem, Mullen declined to discuss specifics, but noted that Pakistan's army has been diverted -- and rightly so -- by floods that ravaged the country.

"They're emerging from that ... I'm confident that the (Pakistani) military knows what it has to do," he said.

Separately, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday met with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at the White House to discuss shared efforts to fight terrorism and cooperate toward a peaceful and stable outcome in Afghanistan, according to the White House.

Obama underscored the importance of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and continued U.S. support for Pakistan, adding that he looks forward to visiting Pakistan later this year, the White House said.

STRONG U.S. PUSH, BUT WILL TALIBAN FEEL THE PRESSURE?

This year will mark a concerted U.S. push to hold on to the gains made in Afghanistan, as the United States draws closer to the point at which it will begin to draw down.

"This year is a pivot point for Afghanistan and for our policy," said a senior Obama administration official on Thursday.

"We've moved from the surge last year to a transition to a ... the beginning of the transition to Afghan lead responsibility. And there is agreement that that transition will begin this year," the official said.

The withdrawal, however, is likely to be limited, as U.S. forces plan a handover of security duties to Afghan forces in 2014.

Nathan Hughes, director of military analysis at global intelligence company Stratfor, said that while U.S. and NATO forces turn up the heat, it remains unknown to what degree the Taliban will feel the burn.

It is clear, however, that the terror group's finances have taken a hit, as poppy production -- a cash cow for the Taliban -- is down due to an anti-narcotics campaign, although recent reports indicate that success may be waning.

TALIBAN HERE TO STAY

Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus has made it clear that the Taliban will be part of Afghanistan in the long run, in one way or another.

Afghanistan is currently trying to figure out how to get the Taliban to the negotiation table, as well as how to go ahead with a process of reconciliation.

Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: Xinhua

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