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US general upbeat on Afghan war

But says more troops needed to fight militants

David McKiernan depicted a chaotic Afghan countryside where insurgents hold more power than the Afghan government. David McKiernan depicted a chaotic Afghan countryside where insurgents hold more power than the Afghan government. (Musadeq Sadeq/ Associated Press)
By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / October 13, 2008
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KABUL, Afghanistan - The top NATO general in Afghanistan yesterday rejected the idea that NATO is losing the Afghanistan war to an increasingly bloody Taliban insurgency.

But US General David McKiernan also said he needs more military forces to tamp down the militants, and he depicted a chaotic Afghan countryside where insurgents hold more power than the Afghan government seven years after the US-led invasion. He said better governance and economic progress were vital.

"It is true that in many places of this country we don't have an acceptable level of security. We don't have good governance. We don't have socio-economic progress. We don't have people that are able to grow their produce and get it to market. We don't have freedom of movement," he told a news conference in Kabul.

"We don't have progress as evenly or as fast as many of us would like, but we are not losing Afghanistan," he said.

In the country's wild south, meanwhile, Taliban militants launched a surprise attack on the provincial capital of Helmand, sparking a battle that killed about 60 insurgents, an Afghan official said.

Militants attacked the town of Lashkar Gah yesterday and were pushed back only after a battle that involved NATO and Afghan troops and airstrikes, said Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the provincial governor. Rockets landed in different parts of the city but there were no civilian casualties, he said.

McKiernan said hundreds of insurgents gathered for the attack, and a NATO statement said its aircraft bombed insurgent positions, killing "multiple enemy forces."

"If the insurgents planned a spectacular attack prior to the winter, this was a spectacular failure," said Brigadier General Richard Blanchette, the spokesman for the NATO-led force.

In a second battle in Helmand, Afghan and international troops retook the Nad Ali district center during a three-day fight, Ahmadi said. That battle, which also involved airstrikes, ended Saturday. About 40 militants were killed, he said.

Afghan police and soldiers were now in control of the district center.

Ahmadi's death tolls could not be verified independently. Journalists are not able to travel to remote and dangerous battle sites. Afghan officials have been known to exaggerate death tolls in the past.

Insurgency-related violence has killed more than 4,800 people - mostly militants - this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials. A record number of US and NATO soldiers have died in 2008.

Back in Kabul, McKiernan said that NATO forces should do more to engage "traditional tribal authorities" to improve security and governance, but he said NATO would not bring back armed militias.

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