“There’s been considerable progress in taking away from the Taliban safe havens,” Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview with NATO TV aired on Wednesday.

“They have to fight back, they’re losing momentum that’s quite clear,” he said. “They know they need to regain that momentum.”

Today’s USA Today had this little bit of propaganda…

General: Heart of Afghanistan insurgency beaten

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have beaten the insurgency in an important stronghold of Taliban fighters, though pockets of resistance remain, a U.S. commander said Monday in an interview with USA TODAY.

“This is really the heart of the insurgency,” Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. “I believe they have been beaten.” [...]

The progress in Helmand province “shows you the momentum is shifting,” said James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Loosening the Taliban’s grip on the drug trade “could have a cascading effect in the years ahead,” he said.

“We can hold with massive U.S. forces,” said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We haven’t shown that Afghan forces can hold.

“It’s going to be a couple of years before we know what these accomplishments mean.”

Mills said coalition forces have succeeded in disrupting the Taliban’s ability to control and resupply its insurgents in Helmand province, and that militants have had to take refuge away from populated areas. “They’ve suffered defeat after defeat on the battlefield,” Mills said.

Central Asia Scholar, Joshua Foust, quickly dispatched that nonsense…

Tricky Logic

…Ignore the fact that just about everything he’s saying is wrong (starting with calling Helmand “the heart of the insurgency,” which not even General McChrystal was willing to say, as he considered Helmand only important as it related to Kandahar). By this logic—momentum is decisively shifting to favor us—we should therefore be contemplating a negotiated settlement with the defeated Taliban and a substantial withdrawal of our victorious Surge troops in July of this year, as promised at the start of the surge in 2009.

Of course, nothing of the sort will actually happen. Victory is justification for more presence, not less (just as defeat is justification for more presence, not less). Increased violence means we’re winning, so therefore we must stay to ensure the win (even though decreased violence would mean we’re winning, so therefore we must stay to ensure violence continues to decrease). We cannot negotiate with pure evil Talibal Qaeda, no matter their status, because some guys just need a good killin’ to fix the problem. And so on…

Interestingly, you can’t really fault the Marine General for his rosy outlook, he’s only following his CinC’s earlier lead…

Petraeus offers optimistic assessment of war in Afghanistan

Gen. David H. Petraeus on Tuesday offered an optimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan, writing to his subordinates that coalition and Afghan troops in the past year “inflicted enormous losses” on mid-level insurgents and “took away some of their most important safe havens.”

The three-page letter to the troops made many of the same points that U.S. military officials have offered for weeks: an improving situation in southern Afghanistan, where the bulk of U.S. troops are based; a relentless mission tempo to kill insurgent field commanders; and an overall weakening of the Taliban.

“Now, in fact, the insurgents are increasingly responding to our operations rather than vice-versa, and there are numerous reports of unprecedented discord among the members of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban senior leadership body,” Petraeus wrote.

But Petraeus’s optimism – he has recently compared the situation in Afghanistan to how he felt near the end of 2007 in Iraq, when violence there began to fall sharply – is not widely shared among Afghans, or even other NATO diplomats or U.S. military officials.

The Grey Lady’s At War blog had this to say…

An Uncharacteristically Upbeat General in Afghanistan

Triumphalism is not supposed to be in the prayerbook of the American military’s Church of Coin these days, but last Wednesday, Jan. 19, proved to be something of an exception. At the morning standup that day, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, was uncharacteristically jubilant. “We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go,” General Petraeus exulted after being briefed on the military operations of the past 24 hours, according to two senior officers who saw the classified standup that day. [...]

“The deep downturn could just as easily be interpreted as an early winter reprieve, after an intense summer fight, and would not represent any longer term degradation of capacity,” Mr. Lee wrote. “If the 2011 spring offensives sustain, or build on, the level of violence achieved this year then it will be a sure indicator that the surge operations achieved little.”

“Taking the national data as a whole we consider this indisputable evidence that conditions are deteriorating,” the report said.

As everyone says here these days, we will see who is right come springtime.

I guess that’s why Betrayus is hedging his bets… and predicts intensified fighting in 2011.

The ANSO report on Afghanistan: Security Conditions across Provinces Deteriorating: Report…

Gates plays down Afghan troop figures in budget

Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down the accuracy of troop figures outlined in a budget request unveiled on Monday, saying the pace of the upcoming drawdown in Afghanistan was still unclear.

Pentagon budget documents forecast the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will drop to an average of 98,250 in fiscal year 2012, compared with an estimated average of 102,000 soldiers and support personnel in fiscal 2011.

Fiscal 2012 starts in October.

President Barack Obama has announced plans to start drawing down troops from the nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan in July, with the goal of passing lead security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Gates, briefing reporters on the budget request, said he explained to lawmakers the 98,250 figure was “a conservative approach to budgeting … since we don’t know how many troops will be reduced during the course of FY ’12.”

“Depending on the size of the drawdowns, that (funding earmarked in the budget) may be money that we just don’t spend,” he added.

How about we pull them all out of harms way…?

*gah*