President Barack Obama's expansion of the war in Afghanistan has eroded the power of the al-Qaida and Taliban, according to his own government's review. The findings ensure that Obama will stay the course, with U.S. forces to remain at war through 2014.
U.S. troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in July, according to the report, the same timeline that Obama promised one year ago and has consistently upheld in recent weeks. But the scope and pace of that withdrawal remain unclear, and both are expected to be modest, given the enormity of the security and governance challenges in Afghanistan.
All the findings will be tested in the months and years to come. They form the basis not just of Obama's war strategy but also his credibility with the American people on how this long, costly war is going _ and when it will end.
The United States and its NATO allies hope to turn control of the Afghanistan conflict to that nation's own forces by the end of 2014, a timeline endorsed in the new review.
Even then, Obama envisions an enduring U.S. role in Afghanistan.
The White House on Wednesday evening released a five-page summary of the newly finished, classified evaluation of the war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that Obama unveiled to much fanfare in December 2009.
The most promising conclusions are that the senior leadership of al-Qaida in Pakistan is at it weakest since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks _ and that the Taliban, a constant source of violence and instability in Afghanistan, has seen much of its power halted and reversed over the last 12 months.
Obama, inheriting a war he considered adrift but vital to American security, ordered a heightened U.S. presence and a renewed commitment to supporting Afghanistan's development.
There are now roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.The report suggests that the gains against the Taliban "remain fragile and reversible." Yet more emphasis is given to descriptions of progress.
"The surge in coalition military and civilian resources, along with an expanded special operations forces targeting campaign and expanded local security measures at the village level, has reduced Taliban influence," the summary says.
That is a reference mainly to the 30,000 additional forces that Obama ordered a year ago.
The review says progress is most clear in the way Afghan and coalition forces are "clearing the Taliban heartland" in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in the boosted size and capability of Afghanistan's security forces.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Kandahar on Thursday that he considers the fight in Afghanistan's South to be a harbinger of how the wider war will go.
"We've got the right people in you," Mullen told U.S. troops. "We've got the right strategy." Afghan army and police are scheduled to grow to more than 300,000 troops over the next two years. They face estimated 25,000-30,000 Taliban guerrillas and other rebels.
There were no direct references to the corruption that plagues Afghanistan's government or the fractured relationship that Obama's administration shares with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday that his country has "more realistic expectations" for Afghanistan _ no longer expecting good governance, but the more achievable goal of "good-enough governance." On al-Qaida, the White House review speaks of major progress in dismantling the Pakistan-based leadership of the terror network.
"Most important, al-Qaida's senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001," the report finds.