WASHINGTON - The enemy in Afghanistan is losing, the U.S. military's top officer declared Wednesday in an unusually upbeat assessment on the war.
The remark from Adm. Mike Mullen comes as the U.S. faces a critical six-month period in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama last year ordered a buildup of troops with the promise that they would start leaving the country in July. Many of Obama's Democratic supporters in Congress say they want to see significant progress by then.
But senior military officials, including Mullen, say they still aren't sure how many troops can leave this summer and from what areas they would be pulled. They caution that significant drawdowns might not happen until closer to 2014, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai has promised to take over security of the country.
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted that there would be "plenty of forces left" come July and he expects violence to rise as U.S. and Afghan forces continue to confront Taliban strongholds.
But, he added, local towns are beginning to reject Taliban fighters and that surprising progress is being seen in tough areas like southern Kandahar province.
"I have every confidence that [the enemy] will continue to lose, so long as coalition and Afghan forces increase their presence and their pressure on his operations and improve their own capacity," he told reporters at the Foreign Press Center.
Last month, the Obama administration completed a strategy review that concluded Taliban momentum had been halted in many parts of Afghanistan and that al-Qaida leaders thought to be plotting further terrorist attacks from Pakistan sanctuaries have suffered grievous losses.