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Top U.S. general says 'Higher levels of fighting' upcoming
The Nation
By Jason Straziuso
ASSOCIATED PRESS
December 30, 2006

CAMP SHARONA, Afghanistan – The outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan predicted more fighting this spring and summer and said Taliban militants would try to overrun towns to "unhinge the Afghan people's morale."

Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry also said the recent killing of a high-level Taliban commander shows that fugitives like Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar will one day slip up, and that the U.S. will strike.

Eikenberry, who is expected to rotate out of Afghanistan in late January, said he expected militants this spring to attack border security posts, to extend their use of suicide bombs and to mass in groups of 25 to 100 for assaults on towns that serve as seats of local government.

But Eikenberry said none of the Taliban's efforts would provide "a significant military challenge" for U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, which he said have improved greatly in the last year.

"The capability exists for that array of allied and Afghan forces to dominate militarily wherever they move to," he told The Associated Press.

Eikenberry said that as he looks ahead to the spring and summer, "I anticipate higher levels of fighting."

When asked if that was in comparison to 2006, he said: "We should not be surprised by levels of fighting in parts of southern Afghanistan that rivaled what we saw last year."

Violence rose sharply in Afghanistan in 2006, killing an estimated 4,000 people, the deadliest year since the U.S.-led coalition swept the Taliban from power in 2001.

Militants launched a record 117 suicide attacks this year, about a six-fold increase over 2005, killing 206 Afghan civilians, 54 Afghan security personnel and 18 soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said spokesman Maj. Dominic Whyte.

The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan dropped slightly, from 93 in 2005 to 87 in 2006. But the number of casualties suffered by other NATO countries rose sharply.

Eikenberry on Friday traveled to three U.S. bases in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan to talk with commanders and meet the soldiers who must fend off attacks by Taliban militants entering from Pakistan.

Eikenberry said an "extraordinary amount of resources" from throughout the U.S. government – and including help from the Afghan and Pakistani governments – are being used to hunt down al-Qaeda leader bin Laden and Taliban leader Omar, who are generally thought to be hiding in the mountainous region of the Pakistan-Afghan border.

He said the killing in a U.S. airstrike Dec. 19 of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, regarded as one of three top associates of Omar, shows the U.S. is ready to strike.

"With that intensive effort that is out there, eventually opportunities will occur, and when those opportunities present themselves, as we demonstrated with Osmani, we're ready to strike," he said. "We continue the full-court press against them. One day they slip, one day they make a mistake, and we'll be there ready to strike."

Eikenberry is expected to rotate out of the country next month as Gen. Dan K. McNeil, a four-star U.S. general, prepares to take command of all NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Original Text

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