Progress in Taliban fight - general
Washington - Coalition forces have halted the march of Taliban militants in parts of Afghanistan, top US commander General David Petraeus said on Tuesday, but he warned that their "fragile" success could still be undone.
"The momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus told US lawmakers.
Petraeus, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan said progress has been achieved since US President Barack Obama poured thousands of reinforcements into the country in late 2009 to thwart the Taliban insurgency.
There are now 97 000 US forces on the ground fighting alongside 45 000 troops from Nato countries as part of the international coalition put in place after US-led troops ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001.
The progress made in the past months means the coalition would in the coming months begin transferring responsibility for security to Afghan forces in many provinces, Petraeus said.
It would also help frame his recommendation "for commencement of the drawdown of the US surge forces in July".
"The hard-fought achievements in 2010 and early 2011 have enabled the Joint Afghan-Nato Transition Board to recommend initiation this spring of transition to Afghan lead in several provinces," Petraeus said.
"However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible," he warned.
The goal remained to prevent the war-torn country becoming once again a haven for al-Qaeda militants while strengthening Afghan institutions such as the army and police.
Nato countries have agreed that full responsibility for security should be handed over to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, allowing the coalition troops to withdraw from the country.
Petraeus said he was optimistic about the course of the fight going forward, after the coalition's recent military successes.
"We believe that we will be able to build on the momentum achieved in 2010, though that clearly will entail additional tough fighting," he said.
He noted that "the insurgents are already striving to regain lost momentum and lost safe havens as we enter the spring fighting season".
The military commander added that planning already is underway for a time when Nato forces no longer are tasked with maintaining Afghanistan's security, and when it is fully Kabul's responsibility.
"We are also now beginning to look beyond 2014... as the United States and Afghanistan, and Nato and Afghanistan, discuss possible strategic partnerships," Petraeus said.
"All of this is enormously reassuring to our Afghan partners and of considerable concern to the Taliban," he said.