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Afghan war ‘harder’ than anticipated: CIA chief

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WASHINGTON – The Afghan war is tougher than anticipated, the head of the CIA admitted Sunday, insisting progress was being made despite rising Taliban attacks and the sacking of the top US commander.


A US soldier of the 97th MP Battalion stands in the mobile gun position of a Mine Resistant Armoured …

“There are some serious problems here,” Leon Panetta, installed last year as President Barack Obama’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, told the ABC network’s “This Week” program.

“We’re dealing with a tribal society. We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency.

“We are making progress. It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated.”

Emboldened perhaps by divisions in the US war effort exposed by the sacking this week of Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal, Taliban attacks are on the rise — a fact Panetta did not attempt to hide.

“I think the Taliban obviously is engaged in greater violence right now. They’re doing more on IED’s (improvised explosive devices). They’re going after our troops. There’s no question about that.”

Obama says his strategy will be unaffected by the shock departure of McChrystal, whose remarks to a magazine about top Obama administration figures betrayed the toxic ties between the commander and his civilian counterparts.

Panetta insisted Obama’s surge strategy — to put 150,000 pairs of boots on the ground by the end of August — is the right one.

“That’s a pretty significant force, combined with the Afghans,” he said.

“I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability.

“If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after.”

Asked for signs of progress, Panetta pointed to Marjah — a southern town long under the control of Taliban which 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops stormed in February, driving out the insurgents and local drug traffickers.

“I think that what we’re seeing even in a place like Marjah, where there’s been a lot of attention… agriculture, commerce is moving back to some degree of normality. The violence is down from a year ago.”

There are 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number set to peak at 150,000 by August in the hope of forcing an end to the insurgency by ramping up efforts in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland.

Panetta said the “fundamental goal” of the US mission in Afghanistan was to rid the country of Al-Qaeda.

“Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al-Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al-Qaeda,” he said.

“That’s really the measure of success for the United States. Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that Al-Qaeda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country.”

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