Afghan campaign is 'all but won'
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The war against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan is "all but won" and offensive operations by the U.S.-led coalition are grinding down as a result, the top British commander in the coalition said Wednesday.
"We believe we're on the right way, that the fight against (the al-Qaida and Taliban) in Afghanistan is all but won," Brig. Roger Lane said at Bagram air base, according to a pool report. "They're not showing a predisposition to reorganize and regroup to mount offensive operations against us."
A 1,000-man British-led force began sweeping on foot through southeastern Afghanistan last Friday to track down small groups of al-Qaida or Taliban fighters and search caves and bunkers they may have once used. The mission, dubbed Operation Snipe, is taking place in an undisclosed area that military officials say has never been searched by coalition troops.
"Because as yet we have not come into contact with the enemy per se, I expect over the next few days that offensive operations akin to Operation Snipe will start coming to an end," Lane said.
The last major battles against al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts took place in March during Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan's Shah-e-Kot mountains. The 12-day assault marked the largest U.S. ground operation of the war. Since then, U.S. officials say enemy fighters have dispersed into small groups.
"I think the general assessment is that in substantial parts of the country the need for offensive operations is beginning to dwindle and that they will be completed in a matter of weeks rather than months," Lane said.
When asked about Lane's comments, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said coalition forces had several jobs to complete, including helping to strengthen the government of Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and tighten the country's borders.
"There are still Al Qaeda and Taliban in the country and in neighboring countries. They still intend to do what they can to destabilize the Karzai interim authority. We intend to see that doesn't happen," he told reporters in Washignton. "And we have no intention of announcing an end date or anything of that type."
Ensuring stability in Afghanistan in the long-term would be the responsibility of an Afghan national army, not the thousands of foreign soldiers currently deployed in the country, he added.
"We're not going to be able to find and destroy every last bunker and terrorist," Lane said. "But we can get to a point where … initially the local Afghan militia forces can take control and then in time, as the development of the Afghan national army takes some form, that they will … then become responsible for their territorial sovereignty and security."