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KABUL, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday rejected comments by the commander of NATO and U.S. forces that their progress had been reversed, saying attacks were increasing around the capital as well as in their heartland in the south.
General David Petraeus told the BBC at the weekend that momentum by the Islamists had been checked in their strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
He also told NBC television's "Meet the Press" programme the battle against the Taliban-led insurgency was an "up and down process" in which areas of progress had been made. [ID:nN1596395]
Petraeus and Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a series of interviews at the weekend aimed at boosting flagging public confidence in the war. The Taliban have also become increasingly sophisticated in their use of the media and issued a statement on Tuesday to deny Petraeus's comments.
"Mujahideen operations have intensified more than ever especially in the provinces surrounding Kabul," spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said in a statement emailed to media by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the title used by the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
"A day doesn't pass by but that the invaders and their stooges face immense losses in Logar, Kapisa, Maidan Wardak and Laghman," he said, referring to provinces surrounding Kabul.
Violence across Afghanistan has reached record levels despite the presence of almost 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops. U.S. and NATO forces have stepped up operations after the Taliban insurgency spread out of the south and east into once relatively peaceful areas of the north and west.
U.S. President Barack Obama is due to make a strategy review of the war in December, a month after crucial mid-term Congressional elections will be held amid growing doubts over a war that has dragged on for almost 10 years.
A poll released last week by NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that seven in 10 Americans did not believe the war would end successfully.
Afghanistan also faces parliamentary elections on Sept. 18 that loom as an important test of stability, as well as the credibility of the Afghan government after presidential polls marred by fraud last year. [ID:nSGE6710FH]
While military commanders have warned the fight will only get tougher, Obama wants to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan from July next year.
The pace and scale of those withdrawals will depend on the readiness of Afghan forces to take over. Karzai has set an ambitious goal of 2014 for Afghan forces to take over complete security responsibility.
The head of the U.S. marines on Tuesday said Obama's proposed date of July 2011 to begin withdrawals was "giving our enemy sustenance". [ID:nN24243920]
U.S. Lieutenant General William Caldwell said on Monday the training of Afghan forces faced big hurdles and that it will take until late October 2011 to build up Afghanistan's police and military before they can take the lead in more than just isolated pockets. [ID:nN23217137]
The battle for foreign forces has been particularly tough in the south, with thousands of U.S. and British troops engaged in clashes around Marjah in Helmand province.
Ahmadi ridiculed the Marjah offensive, accusing foreign forces of making it "sound like a third world war" and saying they had suffered "a disgraceful defeat".
He repeated the Taliban's demand that all foreign forces should leave Afghanistan "and stop sacrificing your sons and daughters for a war which is unwinnable". (Reporting by Paul Tait; Editing by Ron Popeski) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) (firstname.lastname@example.org; Kabul Newsroom, +93 706 011 526) (If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to email@example.com)