WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Violence in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in recent months as Western troops battled an increasingly sophisticated insurgency expanding across the country, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.
Nine years after the arrival of foreign forces, the Pentagon said all types of violent incidents in Afghanistan had increased from April through the end of September, up 300 percent from 2007, except for the use of roadside bombs.
The White House will reveal in coming weeks its review of the war a year after President Barack Obama unveiled a new strategy for the flagging, unpopular campaign in Afghanistan.
Even as the Pentagon’s latest congressionally mandated report painted a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan, where corruption undermines the fight against the Taliban and only halting, uneven improvements to Afghans’ lives have been achieved, U.S. officials said there were signs of progress.
Increased troop levels have bolstered security in some areas in the past six weeks, a period not captured in the twice-annual report, officials said, and foreign troops have managed to push Taliban violence back from cities and towns.
“But this progress is fragile — this is a very tough fight,” a senior State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Yet some onlookers are skeptical even a far-off goal of putting Afghan forces in the lead in 2014 can be reached, as foreign forces struggle to train and fortify local police and soldiers and bring about a modicum of self-governance and growth in one of the world’s poorest countries.
In its report, the Pentagon depicted a ‘resilient’ opponent in Afghanistan, where the Taliban enjoys a steady stream of funding at home and from other Islamic states. Insurgents have fanned out across the country.
“Despite the increase in (local and foreign forces’) capabilities to counter insurgent attacks, the insurgents’ tactics, techniques and procedures continue to evolve in sophistication,” the report found.
The comments come a day before Afghan electoral officials were expected to reveal final results of September’s parliamentary polls after complaints of fraud, another reminder of the deep-seated corruption gripping Afghanistan.
The Pentagon found that while the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was making some efforts to combat corruption, there was a questionable commitment to ending impunity and prosecuting corrupt officials.
Officials said certain “predatory” corruption, like that among police, encouraged Afghans to join the Taliban.
“Corruption continues to have a corrosive effect on (international) efforts in Afghanistan,” the report found.
The military also said Iran continued to provide weapons and training to the Taliban and that their safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border remained an obstacle even as Pakistani military cooperation with NATO improved.
Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by and Todd Eastham