NATO troops are making progress in Afghanistan, yet gains remain fragile and reversible. US President Barack Obama presented a review of the situation one year since the US launched a new strategy.
Obama says he will remain relentless in fighting al Qaeda
US President Barack Obama on Thursday said NATO troops in Afghanistan were making good progress in their fight against Taliban insurgents, but cautioned that "gains are still fragile and reversible."
Obama presented a review of the progress made since Washington outlined a new strategy one year ago, when Obama had ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
The revised strategy also stepped up civilian efforts to strengthen the local government in Kabul.
Hamid Karzai did not always live up to US expectations
"It continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals."
Currently there are around 90,000 US soldiers stationed in the country as part of the NATO contingent, as well as another 23,000 under Washington's immediate command.
Al Qaeda remains the enemy
The main goal of the operation was not to cover the entire country or rebuild it, but to crack down on the al Qaeda network hiding in Afghanistan, Obama said. In that respect, he added, substantial progress had been made.
"Al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake we're going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization."
The report outlined major gains that had been made in clearing the Taliban from the Kandahar and Helmand provinces while at the same time improving the capability of the Afghan army and security forces.
NATO forces plan to hand over security responsibility to Kabul in 2014 in order to subsequently take on a training and advisory role.
NATO troops hope to hand over to Afghan forces in 2014
Close ties to Kabul and Islamabad
The US president called upon the Afghan government to implement more transparency and announced a new American-Afghan partnership deal in the coming year.
This seems to indicate a move away from the recent harsh criticism of President Hamid Karzai for his government's inefficiency in backing NATO efforts to defeat the Taliban.
Obama also stressed the importance of Washington's close cooperation with Pakistan in addressing the growing problem of Islamist insurgents seeking refuge in mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
"Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough, so we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with. We'll speed up our investment in civilian institutions and projects that improve the lives of Pakistanis," Obama said.
Improving relations with Islamabad is seen as key in the new strategy deny. The US Congress last year approved a $7.5 billion-package (5.7 billion euros) to support aid to the frontline country.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Andreas Illmer (dpa, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner