A new Defense Department report on Afghanistan says dramatic increases in fighting against the Taliban have failed to convince the local population that the Afghan government and coalition forces will succeed.
"The Taliban's strength lies in the Afghan population's perception that Coalition forces will soon leave, giving credence to the belief that a Taliban victory is inevitable," the report says.
The 96-page "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" is a required update to Congress and it covers the period from April to the end of September.
It is commonly referred to as a "12-30" report, for the section of the 2008 Defense Authorization law that requires the twice-yearly reports.
The report says that Taliban is not popular but it exploits frustration with a weak Afghanistan government.
"Despite public polling showing a lack of support for the Taliban, Afghan nationals are likely to remain non-committal until the Afghan Government and Coalition forces can convincingly provide security, government and economic opportunities," the report says. "The Taliban have sufficient organizational capability and support to pose a threat to the government's viability, particularly in the south. If the security situation erodes, regional stability will rapidly decline as well."
While the Pentagon report describes "uneven" progress with "modest gains" in security and creating stable local government, it does go on to says the current strategy is showing "some signs of progress."
At a Pentagon background briefing, a senior Defense Department official and a senior State Department official said the report did not cover progress, what he called "encouraging signs," over the past six weeks against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. In regard to the increase in violence, the official said that was a result of larger numbers of U.S. and coalition as well as Afghan security forces.
"This is an extraordinarily dynamic situation," he said. "Even the progress we've seen in the past seven weeks since this report came out is something that is changing the reality on the ground. But in no way, shape or form is anybody guaranteeing success, saying it's 100-percent certain."
The officials agreed to brief the media on the condition they not be identified.
The number of coalition forces on the ground has increase by 37 percent this year compared to last year. And the amount of fighting, "kinetic activity", has increased 300 percent from 2007 - and an additional 70 percent since last year. At the end of September there were more than 96,000 U.S. forces and approximately 49,000 international forces in Afghanistan.
The report says insurgent groups continue to use Pakistan as a staging area for cross-border operations, and it raises new questions about Pakistan's willingness and ability to take on the insurgents in its territory.
"Efforts to reduce insurgency capacity, such as safe havens and logistical support originating in Pakistan and Iran have not produced measurable results," the report notes. "Pakistan's domestic extremist threat and the 2010 floods recue the potential for a more aggressive or effective Pakistani effort in the near term."
And while praising efforts to combat corruption, the report suggests more must be done.
"Corruption continues to fuel the insurgency in various areas ... The (Afghanistan Prasident Hamid) Karzai Administration has improved its stance against corruption by prosecution of several high-profile senior officials. However, progress remains uneven and incremental."
The report makes only glancing reference to "reconciliation and reintegration," efforts to persuade low-level Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and and return to their communities.
"Although the number of insurgent who have so far reintegrated is limited, many groups have come forward to begin discussing options," the report says.
It does not touch on efforts to persuade high-ranking Taliban to give up their fight, on a day in which saw reports that a man claiming to be a Taliban leader at a meeting with Afghan and NATO officials was an impostor. The Defense Department official would not comment on that. Nor would he give any specific details of how many lower-level Taliban had re-integrated, saying it was a "dynamic situation."