The confidence of Afghan security forces is surging after a peaceful transition of government, but their casualties in battles with insurgents are spiking as well, the top U.S. commander in the country said Thursday.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, took office this week and has made a point of embracing Afghan troops and the U.S.-backed security mission, said Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon over a satellite link from Kabul.
“That made an immediate impact on them and their morale,” Campbell said.
The morale boost came at an opportune time. Taliban insurgents have been pressing hard to make a statement about their viability before the end of the summer fighting season, Campbell said.
The last month has seen a “spike” in the number of dead and wounded Afghan national forces as the Taliban mounted offensives in the Helmand and Ghazni provinces, he said.
As a result, the number of ANSF casualties — as best U.S. officials can determine through Afghan channels — is between 7,000 and 9,000 this year, comparable to all of 2013, he said. An increase in casualties was widely expected when Afghans officially assumed most of the fighting duties from NATO troops last year.
But, Campbell said, some of the reports of Taliban successes have been dramatically exaggerated.
“They have quite frankly won the information war, because all of you back there think the Taliban have made great success, and they haven’t,” he said.
While Afghan troops still need extensive help with air support, logistics and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Campbell said their basic fighting ability has grown greatly in recent years.