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The news from Afghanistan today is a mixed bag. Elisabeth Bumiller at the New York Times gets a preview of a scheduled year-end review from an unnamed source:
KABUL, Afghanistan - A senior defense official said Tuesday that a year-end White House review of American strategy in Afghanistan was expected to declare progress in the nine-year-old war and conclude that a surge in United States forces had expanded security in the south and around the capital, Kabul.
But the official said the review would also conclude that the fight was far from over, even though President Obama remained committed to beginning the withdrawal of some United States forces in July 2011. “Clearly, there is a good deal more to be done,” the official said.
Underscoring the part about expanded security in the south, Yochi J. Dreazen of National Journal has news from the southern farming town of Marja:
The top Marine commander in southern Afghanistan said an innovative local defense initiative in the former Taliban stronghold of Marja had finally brought the contested town under NATO and Afghan control, a rare bit of good news from the battlefield as the Obama administration concludes a broad review of its Afghan strategy.
Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills told National Journal in a phone interview that the “fight in Marja is essentially over,” with coalition forces flushing the remaining Taliban fighters to the town’s outskirts and helping the Afghans open new schools, government offices, and medical facilities there.
But a Wall Street Journal report by Adam Entous paints a different picture in the east, near the border with Pakistan:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE JOYCE, Afghanistan-U.S. commanders offered visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates sober assessments of the war effort in large swaths of eastern Afghanistan, sounding alarm about the influx of fighters as the White House completes a report expected to point to signs of progress in the country’s south.
The on-the-ground assessments from hard-hit forward operating bases in the east stood in contrast to more upbeat assertions by Pentagon and White House officials about security gains overall, as the U.S.-led coalition focuses resources on the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
Commanders in the east warned of their limited ability to deliver lasting progress as long as Pakistan offers militants sanctuary on its territory. At FOB Joyce in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. J.B. Vowell, told Mr. Gates there has been a surge in attacks and an influx of fighters from across Pakistan’s border, just a few miles away.
Whether or not the Taliban can be denied sanctuary in Pakistan could be the make-or-break question in Afghanistan. A Reuters dispatch gives a flavor of what’s happening on the Pakistani side of the border, where tribal militias fight the Taliban — but complain they aren’t getting enough support from the government.