US general: Afghan casualties increase, but hold their ground against the Taliban

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WASHINGTON — There has been a big spike recently in the number of Afghan forces, particularly police, who are being killed and wounded in battle due to increased Taliban attacks in the south and east, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Thursday.

But Army Gen. John Campbell said that despite the casualties, the Afghan forces have eventually been able to retake any terrain captured by the Taliban, including in Helmand province where fighting has been intense in recent days. He said that overall this year there have been 7,000-9,000 Afghans wounded or killed, which is a bit higher than the totals so far for last year.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters from his post in Afghanistan, Campbell acknowledged that challenges remain in the effort to improve the abilities of the Afghan forces so that they will be able to secure their own country as the number of U.S. and coalition forces continues to drop. By the end of this year, there could be about 12,700 coalition troops in Afghanistan, including 9,800 Americans.

With fewer troops, Campbell said the U.S. will not be able to provide as many intelligence and surveillance flights or medical evacuations. And he said he is going to be talking to the newly elected Afghan leaders about how they will handle the decreasing support to their military and police forces.

"Quite candidly, the last couple years, there's been some impediments to them, based on maybe some political decisions within their own country that prevented them from even going further," Campbell said. "And now, with a new administration in, with President Ghani, who has embraced the military here, that will probably change some of the directives that were out there that may have inhibited the military."

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in Monday as Afghanistan's second elected president, and the U.S. and Afghanistan signed a key security agreement two days later that allows coalition forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year. The former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had refused to sign the agreement.

In other comments, Campbell also said that reports last week about possible beheadings by the Taliban in Ghanzi province in eastern Afghanistan were "absolutely false."

And he said that while there has been a spike in Afghan casualties, the Taliban has not been able to retake and hold onto any additional territory, Instead, he said, when the Taliban gain ground in Helmand province, sometimes in remote locations, the Afghans can later take the area back.

Overall, he said, the Taliban will "end the fighting season, '14, here very discouraged, and that their leadership continues not even to be in Afghanistan and that their morale of the Taliban continues to be low."

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