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U.S. war commander sees progress in Afghanistan

ISTANBUL - The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said yesterday that the security conditions there are no longer "deteriorating," in contrast to assessments from other nations that the Taliban is expanding in the region and the situation has turned explosive.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal acknowledged the Taliban has made strides and said he is "not prepared to say we've turned a corner." Yet he said the Afghan government and U.S. forces are making progress that leaves him feeling more optimistic than he did last summer, when he said conditions were backsliding.

"I feel differently now," he told reporters.

McChrystal's comments stand in contrast to those of officials in Afghanistan and other countries who say the Taliban's influence is expanding and that the situation there has worsened.

Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization - a federation of Central Asian states created by Moscow - said yesterday that Afghanistan was "explosive" and "catastrophically deteriorating." His comments were reported by ITAR-Tass, the Russian news agency.

Even if slight, any improvement to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan would bode well for President Barack Obama, who has staked his presidency on defeating the Taliban by widening the U.S. commitment there.

While anti-war Democrats say they are skeptical, Obama seems to have convinced many Democrats that additional troops - 30,000 more are being deployed this year - are critical to ending the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials have acknowledged they need to show clear progress against the insurgents within 12 to 18 months to firm up public confidence in the war effort.

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