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Since December 6th the United States has carried out six unmanned airstrikes:

December 10th: Four 'militants' were killed in an airstrike against a vehicle and compound in the village of Khadar Khel, Datta Khel, North Waziristan. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were thought to be amongst the casualties.

December 14th: Two missiles were fired at a vehicle travelling through the village of Spalga, Miramshah, North Waziristan. Four 'militants' were killed in the attack.

December 16th: The United States carried out their first unmanned airstrike outside of North Waziristan since late September. Unmanned aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle travelling in the Tirah Valley, Khyber. Seven 'militants' believed to be from Swat and South Waziristan were reportedly killed in the attack. The airstrike was only the second undertaken within the Khyber region since the US began its unmanned campaign in 2004.

December 17th: The Khyber region remained the focus of US airstrikes for the second day running. Three separate strikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of 54 'militants'. Fifteen were reported killed in an attack on a compound in the village of Shandana in the Tirah Valley; seven were killed in an airstrike on a similar building in the village of Nakai, Malik Deen Khel. According to reports, 32 members of the Lashkar-e-Islam were killed in an attack on a compound in the village Speen Drang, Tirah Valley. As with all recent attacks no senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were amongst the casualties.

According to the Long War Journal the recent relocation of the unmanned campaign to the Khyber region may represent a shift in US strategy. The Khyber and in particular the Tirah Valley has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaida activity. This came in response to Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan in late 2009.

 

Reviewed by Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Between 1986 and 1998 STRATFOR'S Fred Burton was at the forefront of the United States' counterterrorism efforts. As part of the relatively low-profile Diplomatic Security Service's (DSS) Counterterrorism Branch, Burton gained first experience of religious terrorism and extremism. 'Ghost' is his attempt to take the reader into his and the West's struggle against terrorist atrocities. This is a journey into what Burton calls the 'Dark World' and as such throws light on the response to terrorism that is seen by all but a few.

Ghost is divided into three sections, each reflecting stages of Burton's career with the DSS and also developments within the international system. Part 1 details Burton's transition from a beat cop into a counterterrorism professional. It also covers the Beirut hostage crisis and the beginnings of Libya's support for Middle East terrorism. From the outset it is absolutely staggering just how inadequately prepared the United States was for international terrorism. Initially, the Counterterrorism Branch was comprised of just three federal officers. There were no set guidelines or standard procedures and you get the sense that Burton and the team truly made it up as they went along.

To begin, Burton applies a beat cop mentality to the task at hand. At times part 1 reads a little bit like a counterterrorism manual. It is full of anecdotes about lessons learned, advice to take out into the field and 'do's and don'ts'. Part 1 also provides the reader with the side of intelligence and counterterrorism that is regularly played out in Hollywood movies. Burton introduces us to the FOGHORN messenger facilities, the standard uniform and accessories of a federal agent and the near constant stream of intelligence that needs to be sifted and made sense of quickly. There is also a sense that because the Counterterrorism Branch was so small and compartmentalised they were a breed apart from Washington's other federal agencies. Yet all this is forgotten when it is discovered that they have lost one of their own.

As hostages are gradually released in Lebanon it becomes clear that William Buckley, the former CIA Bureau Chief in Beirut, died in captivity. Burton's memoirs capture the overall despair that all federal agencies felt in not saving the life of a colleague. Indeed the death of Buckley is one of many acts of extremism that Burton and his own take very personally. In doing so the Counterterrorism Branch shifts from being a regular place of work to almost the cornerstone of Burton's very existence. Holidays are lost, family commitments are overlooked and weekends merge into the working week.

A further demonstration of how all consuming counterterrorism became to Burton is his 'hit-list' of terrorists. For twelve years, Burton did not rest in his attempts to bring each and every name on that list to justice. Indeed many names were added to the list throughout his career. The bombing of the TWA Flight over Greece, the Lockerbie disaster and the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre all bring the same heartfelt response from Burton. They also take him to the safe-houses and the back streets of the world in his attempts to capture those responsible. When Burton slips off the scene almost entirely, the reader joins him on a journey into the murkiest parts of the 'Dark World'.

Read more...  

By Nick Watts, Defence Correspondent, Great North News Services

British military sources are confident that the Afghan National Army will be ready to take over operations from ISAF by 2014. At the Lisbon summit NATO committed itself to hand over counter insurgency operations to the Afghan National Army (ANA) by the end of 2014. Recently the British prime minister spoke of beginning to withdraw personnel as early as next year. British experience of partnering with 3215 Brigade ANA, which was raised in February this year, is cited as a good example of how this ambition is progressing. Much depends on this process succeeding.

NATO leaders recognize that the way to ensure that ISAF can hand over by 2014 is to step up the tempo of training of the ANA. The target for recruited and trained strength of the ANA is 171,600 by November 2011. Currently there are 144,000 trained soldiers in 28 Kandaks (Battalions). Following the transition of ISAF forces from Mentoring to partnering the emphasis has shifted to putting ANA forces in the lead on operations, with British and other ISAF forces in support. This has meant that the quality of soldiers needs to be raised.

The priority of the ANA is to concentrate on counter IED training (CIED), which Afghan soldiers take pride in doing well. Another priority is to improve medical training. In parallel with this is the need to improve absenteeism, which is addressed through better pay, and illiteracy which is being addressed by putting 34,000 soldiers through literacy training.

Putting the ANA into the front line more has had the effect of raising their self esteem, according to MOD commanders. The NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTMA) estimates that as of November 2010, of 28 ANA Kandaks, seven are capable of undertaking operations with minimal advice; ten remain reliant on ISAF for direct assistance; nine are at an early stage of development and a further two are still being assessed. British officers admit that the ANA is being fashioned from the bottom up and that future senior leaders will emerge from the current cadres of middle ranking officers. Technical training is increasing alongside tactical training, but this will take time.

British experience with 3215 ANA Brigade has been positive. A small operation OMID DO was undertaken earlier this year, which the ANA planned and lead. There were no major tactical engagements with insurgents but the new partnering system proved itself. A subsequent larger scale operation OMID CHAR was launched in support of the governor of Garesh district, again with ANA elements taking a leading role. British commanders are upbeat about progress, but admit that General Petreaus's ambition to increase the tempo of operations against the insurgents will require a close eye to be kept on how the ANA progresses.

 

Since November 3rd the United States has carried out 10 unmanned airstrikes.

November 7th: The US carried out two airstrikes in North Waziristan today. Unmanned Predators or Reapers first attacked a vehicle and a compound in the village of Ghulam Khan in the Miramshah area. Nine 'militants' were reported killed in the attack.

The second attack targeted a vehicle in the village of Maizer, Datta Khel. Five 'foreigners' the term used to describe Arab and Central Asian operatives were killed in the strike.

No senior al Qaida or Taliban figures were reported killed in the attack.

November 11th: Six missiles were fired at a compound in the village of Gulli Khel, Ghulam Khan. The attack targeted a group of 'fighters' returning to North Waziristan from Khost province in Afghanistan. Of the six killed in the attack none were believed to be senior operatives. However the nature of the strike suggests that a senior figure or wanted operative was the main focus of the attack.

November 13th: An unmanned airstrike targeted a compound and a vehicle in the village of Ahmad Khel in the Mir Ali region of North Waziristan. Whilst Pakistani officials claimed four 'militants' were killed in the attack, reports from the scene also suggested that civilians may have been killed in the strike.

November 19th: Three 'militants' were killed in an attack on a vehicle travelling in the village of Norak, Mir Ali. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were believed to be amongst the casualties.

November 21st: The US struck a compound and vehicle in the village of Khaddi, near Miramshah. Pakistani intelligence officials initially indicated that six 'militants' were killed in the attack. However later press reports speculated that nine 'militants' were killed and that three civilians harbouring operatives were also amongst the casualties.

November 22nd: The second attack in as many days targeted a vehicle and motorcycle in the village of Khushali, Miramshah. Five 'militants' were reported killed in the attack, yet none were believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives.

November 26th: An unmanned airstrike today against a vehicle travelling within the village of Pir Kali, Mir Ali, North Waziristan. The area is known to host a number of al Qaida operatives. Yet of the four killed in the attack none were deemed to be senior figures.

November 28th: The US undertook a similar strike against a vehicle as it travelled within the village of Hasan Khel, Mir Ali. Despite the continued concentration on a region known to host al Qaida operatives, the four 'militants' killed in the strike were not thought be senior figures in this movement or the Taliban.

December 6th: After a period of relative quiet the United States today struck a vehicle and a compound in the village of Kyshore, Datta Khel. The U.S. drone first attacked the 'militants' vehicle, killing two whilst another three escaped. The drone then attacked a shop hiding the others. This strike killed the three 'militants' whilst wounding three others.

According to the Long War Journal the United States has carried 106 unmanned airstrikes to date throughout 2010. This is a 50% increase from last year, and just over 50% of all airstrikes undertaken since 2004. The focus of attacks has overwhelmingly been North Waziristan. To date, 92% of all strikes have been carried out here in comparison with 7% in South Waziristan. Interestingly there has been a significant shift in the targeting of al Qaida/Taliban factions. In 2009 the main focus of attack was the Mehsud network. However 2010 saw an increase in attacks on Bahadar network and to a lesser extent the Haqqanis.

 

Since October 13th the United States has carried out 12 unmanned air strikes.

October 15th: The United States today launched a pair of unmanned air strikes against villages in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The first strike hit a compound in the village of Marchi Khel, killing five 'militants'. The second attack on a vehicle in the village of Aziz Khel killed an additional four 'militants'. No senior Taliban or al Qaida operatives were reported killed in the attacks.

October 18th: Six missiles were fired at a compound and vehicle in Sunzalai village, Datta Khel, North Waziristan. Six 'militants' were reported killed in the attack, with an additional five injured. Interestingly, four Predators appeared to circle over the scene after the attack.

October 27th: The United States launched its first strike in nine days with two attacks on targets in North Waziristan. The first attack struck a compound in the village of Spin Wam, Mir Ali. The target was a house belonging to a militant identified as Nasimullah Khan. According to the Associated Press foreign fighters were reported to be staying at the house. Two 'militants' were reported killed in the attack.

The second strike hit a vehicle in the village of Degan, Datta Khel. Two Arab al Qaida members and two 'Westerners' were reported killed in the attack.

In both instances, the exact targets of the strikes remain unclear, and no senior operatives were thought to be amongst the victims.

October 28th: The US launched their third attack in two days against a compound in the village of Ismail Khan, Datta Khel. Seven 'militants' were reported killed and were wounded.

November 1st: Two missiles were fired at a compound in the village of Haider Khan, Mir Ali, North Waziristan. According to Pakistani security sources the compound belonged to a local tribesman and was believed to be sheltering local 'militants'. Six 'militants' were reported killed; however none were thought to be senior operatives.

November 3rd: Thirteen 'militants' were killed in three separate airstrikes within North Waziristan. In the first strike four 'militants' were reported killed after two missiles were fired at a vehicle in Qutub Khel, a suburb of Miramshah. The vehicle was reportedly laden with arms and ammunition.

In the second strike another vehicle was targeted in the village of Kaiso Khel, Datta Khel. Five 'militants' were reported killed in this strike.

Yet another vehicle was attacked in a strike in the Mir Ali area. Four 'militants' were reported killed in this attack. Yet despite the intensity of today's airstrikes, no senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were believed to be amongst the dead.
November 7th: Two airstrikes today in North Waziristan killed 14 'militants', including five 'foreigners'.

In the first attack missiles were fired on a compound and vehicle in the village of Ghulam Khan, Miramshah. Nine 'militants' were killed in this strike.

The second airstrike of the day targeted a vehicle in the village of Maizer, Datta Khel. Five 'foreigners' a term used to describe Arab or Central Asian al Qaida operatives were reported killed. However in both instances no senior operatives were believed to be amongst the casualties.

In comparison with last month's Drone Wars, the United States appears to have dramatically scaled back its unmanned campaign. Nevertheless, the Long War Journal reports that the US has conducted 97 airstrikes to date in 2010. Should the attacks continue with the same intensity throughout the rest of November/early December then the United States is likely to double its tally of unmanned strikes in comparison with 2009.

North Waziristan remains the overwhelming focus for the majority of airstrikes. However on the 8th November the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) claimed that six Taliban groups in South Waziristan had now joined the larger organization. The groups have all reportedly expressed their confidence in the leadership of the TTP's Hakeemullah Mehsud. As a result of increased TTP activities in South Waziristan, it will be interesting to monitor how many airstrikes are undertaken here throughout the rest of 2010.

 

Since August 27th the United States has carried out 31 unmanned airstrikes.

September 3rd: The United States carried out two airstrikes in North Waziristan. The first attack saw two missiles fired at a compound near Miramshah. Six 'local militants' were killed in the attack, with none believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban figures. A second strike hit a compound in the town of Data Khel. Nine Taliban fighters were reported killed in this attack, including a local commander known as Inayatullah.

September 4th: A third airstrike in the space of two days focussed upon a compound and vehicle in the Data Khel region of North Waziristan. Between five and eight militants were reported in the attack on the village of Mizer.

September 6th: Two missiles were fired at a vehicle in the village of Khar Qamar, Data Khel, North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that five militants were killed in the attack, although none were believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives. However, the Long War Journal indicates that not only is Data Khel the stronghold of Hafiz Gul Badahar a leading Taliban commander it is also a known hub for al Qaida's top leadership.

September 8th: There were four unmanned airstrikes over twenty-fours as the United States' campaign in North Waziristan gathered momentum. The first strike against a compound in the town of Danda Darpa Khel reportedly killed ten militants. This was followed by another attack claiming the lives of four Haqqani network fighters. A third airstrike took place in the town of Ambor Shaga, Data Khel. In this attack three missiles were fired at a vehicle, killing four militants. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were reported killed in these strikes.

The fourth airstrike of the day focussed upon the town of Miramshah. Three missiles were fired at a compound resulting in the death of six Taliban fighters and five injuries. It was reported that some of the victims were Afghans. Whilst no senior operatives at the time were believed to have been killed in this attack, the Taliban reportedly cordoned off the area and attempted to recover the dead and the wounded.

However on September 30th reports emerged that eight Germans and two Britons were amongst the dead in the Data Khel airstrike. They were involved in the recently exposed plot to conduct a range of Mumbai-style attacks throughout Europe. The casualties also included an Islamic Jihad Group commander who trained Europeans to carry out attacks on their home soil.

The Islamic Jihad Group a splinter faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is known to operate a 'German Taliban village' in Waziristan.

Today was the first time that the United States carried out four airstrikes within a 24 hour period.

Read more...  

Since the 25th July the United States has carried out five unmanned airstrikes:

August 14th: The U.S. carried out its first airstrike in almost three weeks on a compound in the village of Issori, near Miramshah, North Waziristan. Reports suggested that twelve al Qaida or Taliban operatives sheltering in the compound were killed in the attack. None were believed to be senior figures.

August 21st: Reports claimed that the United States fired four missiles from an unmanned aircraft at vehicles and a compound outside the village of Anghar Kala, Miramshah, North Waziristan. The airstrike killed six people, including 'foreigners'.

August 23rd: An unmanned airstrike targeted a compound in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, Miramshah, North Waziristan. Five terrorists and seven civilians were killed in the attack. In a second attack, five Taliban fighters were killed when UAVs fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Derga Mandi. The latter strike was the 53rd conducted by the United States this year. This meant that the United States had now matched its entire strike total for the previous year.

August 27th: The United States changed the focus of its unmanned airstrikes to the tribal agency of Kurram. An unmanned airstrike hit two vehicles near a compound in the village of Shahidano. Whilst no senior al Qaida or Taliban figures were amongst the four killed in the attack, Pakistani sources claimed the airstrike targeted members of Hakeemullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban. According to the Long War Journal the Taliban regrouped in Kurram after the Pakistani military launched its offensive in South Waziristan in 2009. The Taliban in Kurram are commanded by Maluvi Noor Jamal, who is regarded as a potential successor to Hakeemullah.

 

By Lauren Williamson

Next year's final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq could pose a serious security threat to the burgeoning democracy. In Middle East Report No. 99, released in October 2010, the International Crisis Group deconstructs the country's complex security framework, outlining ambiguities in protocol and inefficiencies in coordination. Arguing that the country's most significant threat is now internal, the report recommends the Iraqi government act quickly to unify its people and fill any gaps created by the withdrawal of US forces.

The 2008 Status-of-Forces Agreement requires all US forces to fully withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011. With just over a year before deadline, there is much work ahead to ensure Iraq can operate solo. In a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), the think tank deconstructs the country's security framework, outlining ambiguities in protocol and inefficiencies in coordination. The ICG argues that Iraq's future success depends on: 1) unifying and integrating the security forces, and 2) implementing stronger government oversight and accountability measures. But these recommendations are premature, as the March elections have left Iraq's government in political paralysis. The parliamentary tensions must first be addressed before Iraqi leaders shift focus to the country's security forces.

Since the March elections, Iraq's parliament has remained deadlocked in choosing a new leader. Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki trailed only slightly behind secular Shi'ite candidate Ayad Allawi. US-supported plans for creating a power-sharing government between the groups have not been well-received. Maliki's attempt to secure reappointment has led him to align with Moktada al-Sadr's anti-American Shi'ite Islamist bloc, which analysts say indicates Iran's expanding influence over Iraq. This political environment is sure to stymie any attempt by Iraqi leaders to pursue the ICG's recommendations, as constructive as they may be.

In the report, the ICG carefully details the security framework explaining the various armed entities and six separate intelligence agencies operating within Iraq. A daunting point made by the ICG is that "who controls these various agencies is unclear." Although each agency was individually created to handle differentiated tasks, there exists much overlap which leads to inconsistencies and inefficiencies. Additionally, rivalry has developed between the groups. Such problems link to the US's initial response to the insurgency. To quickly quell the violent upsurge during the civil war years 2005-2007, the US increased quantity not quality of security forces. There were no background checks or assurances in loyalties. The ICG argues reversing that trend by focusing on quality of forces, should be the course of action over the next year.

But such efforts would be hampered by the existing inner tensions and public mistrust of the government, particularly amidst Maliki's power grab since 2008. Many Iraqis feel he has exploited the weaknesses in the country's 2005 constitution and that he manipulates security forces to further his own autocratic tendencies and harass political opponents. The ICG suggests the government enforce a hierarchy among the security bodies and set consistent protocol while limiting the political power of any one individual. Yet, if Maliki does secure reappointment, it is doubtful his government would readily support such measures.

Beyond this, the corruption in the country must be addressed. Iraq must therefore combat the problem of ghost soldiers, or soldiers who do not work but take in pay. They must thwart the increase in bribery through which jailed criminals are easily freed and insurgent attackers bypass security checkpoints. The ICG's report does not specifically make recommendations to solve these issues, but it is clear that the government must create an incentive structure that will yield liberal behaviour from citizens. Iraqi quality of life and available economic opportunities must be fruitful enough and legal consequences intimidating enough to make corrupt activities less appealing.

Paternalistic US support may have inadvertently contributed toward stunting the progress of Iraq's internal security. The fear is that when US forces leave in 2011 taking funding, logistics and equipment with them it will kick away the crutches too soon. The ICG's report labels the US military as Iraq's "primary bonding agent," but says US military support provides the perfect incentive to offer in return for the Iraqi government adopting a stronger regulatory framework. But this enticement does little to help Iraq create its own bonding agent, and a squabbling parliament is unlikely to easily agree on new regulations which need to be in place before the end of 2011.

Achieving comprehensive security requires a more holistic approach than the one provided by the ICG. One in seven Iraqi men is armed, and the report recommends continued integration of former insurgents into existing forces or public sector employment. However, there are profound ramifications of handling such a surplus of fighters. If quality, not quantity is the way forward, as the ICG suggests, Iraq is facing a significant challenge in reabsorbing former fighters into civilian life. Not only does the country need to offer appealing employment opportunities, but to achieve successful reintegration it must also emphasize re-education. The archetypal grandeur experienced during warfare does not lose its attraction when a war ends, and this psychological desire is hard to quench through the non-combatant roles civilian life offers. It is possible that these individuals will seek fighting elsewhere, becoming liabilities to Iraq's internal security.

The report states "no external threat appears on the horizon" for Iraq. The ICG maintains that insurgent groups are not strong enough to topple the government. Such statements may be harmful if they contribute to a false sense of confidence about the capabilities of the deeply divided government. Iraq's internal tensions might make the country more vulnerable to external threats.

While the report offers a solid analysis of Iraq's security workings and provides recommendations for reviving the regulatory architecture that governs them, it is insufficient in setting a path for achieving total security for the burgeoning democracy. Solving the political deadlock and attaining inner cohesion should be the top priority. In fact, the Strategic Framework Agreement of 2008, which roughly outlines the longer-term Iraqi-US relationship, may need to be amended as troops depart, to allow for a more comprehensive approach in achieving
security for the country.

This article was originally written for and published by The Majalla.

The International Crisis Group report can be accessed here.

 

In July 2010 the Chief of the General Staff Sir David Richards (CDS-designate) hosted a special showing of The Great Game, a series of 12 short plays about the culture and history of Afghanistan, at the Tricycle Theatre in London. He took his own immediate staff, people from the MoD including the Second Permanent Secretary, a senior Treasury official and other opinion-leaders.

The programme notes included an excellent history of modern Afghanistan from the 1830's to the present day by Jane Shallice, who is also a member of the Stop the War Coalition. It is reproduced here by her kind permission and that of the theatre, whose Director Nicolas Kent commissioned the works and which, with the active support of General Richards, is taking them to be performed across the United States (including Washington DC.)

You can read the whole history here.

 

US Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills and his Deputy Commander, Brigadier George Norton, held a media briefing last Tuesday at the Ministry of Defence to report on security conditions over the past year in Helmand province, the region once referred to by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates as 'perhaps the most dangerous place on earth'. Speaking via satellite link from Camp Leatherneck, the commanders noted 'sustained', 'continuous' and 'unrelenting' progress since the US troop surge last year.

'The insurgent leadership has fled the province', said General Mills. 'We believe that he suffers from a lack of money and a lack of recruits. His leadership has been decimated by our special forces.'

Reflecting on the 'very dark place' that Sangin district was a year ago when he took command of Britain's 8,000 troops and 20,000 US Marines in Helmand province, Mills said there was 'a powerful insurgency that controlled the bulk of the population and the majority of the terrain... that controlled the roads... and ran a very well organised and surprisingly sufficient supply chain... Today we see quite a different province'.

Over the last year, coalition forces successfully expanded and connected 'security bubbles' that have eliminated large encounters and lengthy engagements with the Taliban. Commanders now see a broken enemy supply line, a robust Afghan security force, repaired roads, new infrastructure, a 'flourishing' and even 'aggressive' free media and competent district governors. A national election also came off 'fairly and virtually incident free'.

Brigadier Norton emphasized the 'significantly reduced' numbers of enemy fighters on the ground, a trend he explained as the 'local' nature of the insurgency. Fighters are drawn from local villages and 'simply drift away' from the insurgency when faced with steady resistance.

Major General John Lorimer chaired the 15 March media briefing and discussed the recent successes of the 1st battalion Royal Irish Regiment in Helmand. 500 Royal Irish soldiers took part in a massive air assault codenamed Operation 'Black Winter' in Helmand's Nad-e Ali district, the biggest operation for 1st Battalion since the crossing of the Rhine in 1945. Previously one of the most dangerous insurgent strongholds in Nad-e Ali, Zaborabad is now safely under coalition control. Last month, 1st battalion also recovered a huge stash of deadly Taliban weapons and ammunition in Nad-e Ali, a find that Lorimer says is a testament to the improved level of trust between security forces and the local population. Everyday citizens often provide the most valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban fighters and their stored weapons.

Successes have come at a price, noted the commanders. The U.S., U.K., Denmark, Georgia and other coalition partners lost a combined 179 soldiers from enemy fire in Helmand over this period.

'There is still much work to be done', admitted Mills. 'The areas north of Sangin remain an insurgent controlled area.' Forces must link up with Kandahar and 'we have to address the Pakistani border at some point in the future', he added.

Commanders are expecting a renewed offensive by the Taliban-led insurgents in the spring and summer that will test the readiness of Afghan forces and could undermine some of the year's achievements. Efforts must coordinate with the gradual transition of security from NATO forces to the Afghan army, which begins this July and ends with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.

Today, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced details about the first transitional phase. Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, is among the seven areas to take part.

'We hold the initiative', Norton reassured. 'The challenge of it is to develop it and sustain it over time.'


 
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