KABUL, Afghanistan — A week after a complex insurgent attack paralyzed the capital, NATO commanders on Monday offered a startlingly buoyant assessment of security gains across the country and of the readiness of the Afghan police and the army to take full control of their country as U.S. and other international forces leave.
“By December 2014, the Afghan National Security Forces will be well able to take on the task of executing an ongoing counterinsurgency campaign,” a senior NATO official said at a news conference called under standing ground rules of anonymity. “We are very confident that we can hand off responsibility to them.”
The confidence the commanders laid out is at odds with both the unease many Afghans feel about the possible encroachment of insurgents as the foreign forces withdraw, and the reality in those stretches of rural territories the Taliban have claimed outside the main cities. But the assessment is in keeping with quiet comments made recently by NATO leaders that they wanted to get out a message that Afghan forces were performing well, a message that they said was being underplayed. The preparedness of the Afghan forces is an important plank of the Western coalition’s withdrawal plans.
Since the high-profile attacks in Kabul on April 15, in which Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen set siege to the diplomatic quarter and the Parliament for hours and struck in three eastern provinces, NATO and Afghan authorities have initiated something of a full-court press, emphasizing their view that Afghans played a central role in routing the insurgents.
On Monday, NATO portrayed a situation in Kabul and across Afghanistan in which Taliban activity is waning and security zones have been widened, even in former Taliban heartlands in the south. Even in Kabul, major events like the traditional council gathering called the loya jirga last fall went ahead without disruption, NATO said.
All this was possible, officials said, as a result of relentless pressure from coalition and Afghan troops and widening divisions and frictions within the insurgents.
Insurgent attacks were down 10 percent last year, compared with a year earlier, and officials expected the trend to continue this year. “The Afghans are really stepping up to the mark,” the senior NATO official said, but he offered no statistics on missions undertaken either solely or predominantly by Afghan forces.
Musa Mahmodi, executive director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said that there were signs of improving security, including that the Taliban were weakened, but that the army still needed long-term support.