Enemy 'is losing' in Afghanistan, Mullen says

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By Ernesto Londono and Karin Brulliard
Saturday, December 18, 2010

KABUL - The top U.S. military officer said Friday that "the enemy is losing" in Afghanistan, but conceded that the Taliban will continue to have a sanctuary in Pakistan until that nation decides to fully tackle Islamist insurgents on its soil.

"The enemy is being pushed out of population centers, is being denied sanctuary, is losing leaders by the score," said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a visit to Kabul. "His scare tactics are being rejected by citizens."

Mullen and other U.S. officials in the region provided an upbeat assessment of the war effort while echoing President Obama's statements on Thursday on the importance of securing meaningful cooperation from Pakistan to build on what the administration calls "fragile" security gains in neighboring Afghanistan.

The White House this week completed a review of the state of the war a year after Obama authorized a 30,000-troop surge.

NATO announced Friday the deaths of two service members in attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan, adding to the toll of what has been by far the deadliest year for foreign troops since the war began in late 2001.

U.S. officials remain frustrated by Pakistan's failure to attack militants from the so-called Haqqani network who have sought refuge in a religious school in the dangerous tribal areas.

Mullen said he has conveyed to Pakistani leaders the United States' sense of urgency on eliminating sanctuaries and added that a relationship that has for years been strained by duplicity is increasingly anchored in trust.

"But trust takes time to form, and that is not made any easier by the frenetic pace of war," he said.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter said Pakistani military officials have assured the United States that they will crack down on the militant-riddled border area of North Waziristan.

"It's not a question of if they will do so, it is a question of when they will do so. And they will do so at their own pace," Munter said.

Pakistan has repeatedly rebuffed U.S. pleas to launch a ground operation in North Waziristan, the stronghold of an alphabet soup of militant organizations that includes al-Qaeda and Afghan insurgents such as the Haqqani network.

The Pakistani military says its troops are already overstretched battling militants in other parts of the lawless borderlands. But U.S. officials privately complain that the Pakistani forces are overly focused on the eastern border with arch-enemy India and say the military continues to support some North Waziristan-based insurgents as proxies for influence in Afghanistan.

Munter, however, insisted that U.S. officials accept Pakistan's arguments about its troop limitations and its determination to combat Islamist insurgents.

"We understand they're telling us honestly about the capacity of the military, and when they are able, we are convinced they will move in."

londonoe@washpost.com brulliardk@washpost.com

Brulliard reported from Islamabad.


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