WASHINGTON – Insurgent attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased 40 percent this year over last year, the top U.S. general in the country said Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said there have been 40 deaths among uniformed and civilian foreign coalition members in the east since the start of April, the same rate of causalities as last year.
He said the coalition is making progress in training the Afghan Army, providing development and mentoring the Afghan government. But Schloesser added that he's "nowhere near able to say that we've reached irreversible momentum."
Fighting between Taliban-led insurgents and foreign and government forces has risen each year since 2002 — and has been surging across the south and east of the country this year — with nearly 2,000 people killed in insurgency-related violence so far in 2008.
Schloesser is in charge of the eastern part of the NATO coalition in the country and a U.S. counterterrorism group.
He said the increase in fighting can be attributed partly to more enemy attacks and more coalition forces going into areas where they previously have not ventured.
Though he gave no figures on the number of attacks, he said they had increased 40 percent from January through May compared with the same months in 2007.
Asked how long it would be before things improve, he said: "I can't predict how long it's going to take. I can say that I believe we're making progress."
Only 12 percent of attacks in his sector are at the border with Afghanistan but they are significant because the militants "try to get between us and our Pakistani army colleagues and try not only to cause just absolute confrontation, but real firing between the two of us," Schloesser said.
He declined to talk about the June 10 operation in which Pakistan says a U.S. airstrike killed 11 of its Frontier Corps troops. The bombing is under investigation but the U.S. says it was firing on anti-coalition forces that had attacked on the Afghan side of the border, then fled to the Pakistan side.
Militants are attacking Afghan civic centers, schools and development projects — killing teachers, students, road crews and others working to improve life in Afghanistan, Schloesser said.
He said the coalition is making progress on development and governance, issues commanders hope will persuade the population to side with their government and against the insurgents.