No Spring Taliban Offensive Expected, U.S. Mideast Commander Tells Congress

The top military commander in the Mideast said Wednesday that he does not expect Taliban forces in Afghanistan to launch a spring offensive this year.

If anything, he said, he sees the momentum continuing to swing in the direction of coalition forces.

"The spring offensive is going to be by our people, as they move out and take advantage of the situation that they helped create through their good works there in the fall of last year," Adm. William Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. is sending another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, in part to stave off any uptick in violence that might come with the warmer weather.

Fallon said the influx of troops will give Gen. Dan McNeil, head of forces in Afghanistan, the "shot in the arm he needs to really go after the security, particularly in the south, where he intends to deploy those forces."

At the Pentagon, Navy Adm. Michael Mullen told reporters that on visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan this week he emphasized the need to build stronger partnerships to defeat Islamic extremists.

Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that in Pakistan he met with President Pervez Musharraf and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He said he did not present them with new proposals for U.S. military assistance.

"The Pakistan military is in a tough fight against terror, especially in the border regions," Mullen said, referring to the border with Afghanistan. "And they're working very hard to better prepare themselves for that challenge. I reiterated my sincere desire to help them in whatever ways I could, whatever ways we could, when and where asked to do so."

Overall, Fallon said that while the situation in Afghanistan is not ideal, recent improvements have been encouraging.

However, independent assessments of the war suggest a grimmer view: Afghanistan now produces 93 percent of the world's opium poppy, a business that has aided the resurgence of Taliban militants. Also on the rise is terrorist violence, namely suicide bombings.

One assessment, by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, said Afghanistan risks sliding into a failed state and becoming the "forgotten war" because of deteriorating international support and the growing violent insurgency.

Democrats said they blame the Bush administration for diverting the nation's resources to Iraq.

"I hope that ... you can reassure us that I am being pessimistic when I say that we face potential failure in Afghanistan if we cannot reallocate some resources to that war," said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

"We should expect our NATO allies to step up and do more, but we should take the lead in demonstrating an additional commitment," he said.

Fallon said that despite an increase in violence last year, coalition forces still have degraded the Taliban's ability to attack. The rise in suicide attacks, while alarming, is confined to about 10 percent of the total districts in Afghanistan, he said.

On the drug trade, the admiral said the military is aware of the enormity of the problem.

"We've got to stop it," Fallon said. "We could use more help from the international community."