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NATO squeezing Taliban, but no claims of victory

world Updated: Oct 23, 2010 21:06 IST

With nearly 300 Taliban commanders killed or captured in the past three months and insurgents routed from strongholds, there are signs that international forces might be gaining the upper hand in the war in Afghanistan.

Still, NATO is stopping short of claiming to have broken the back of insurgents, who have been beaten back in the past, only to quickly regain lost territory. The Taliban have been battered in the south in offensives by fortified NATO forces, but militants have opened new fronts in the north.

Coalition officials are touting the successes ahead of Washington's year-end review of the war and a NATO gathering next month, where the top U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, will seek to show the campaign deserves continued support.

"We genuinely believe that we are beginning to show real progress," said Mark Sedwill, the NATO force's top civilian official. "We're very cautious about it. We're not beating our chests suggesting that suddenly 2010 has been dramatically different from what happened before."

A little more than a year ago, Petraeus's predecessor Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the war effort was "deteriorating" and could fail without an influx of tens of thousands of additional troops. Soon after, President Barack Obama ordered more than 30,000 U.S. reinforcements, who finished arriving in Afghanistan at the end of August.

Sedwill said NATO commanders believe McChrystal's assessment "is no longer the case, that we are on course to regain the initiative by the end of 2010.''

In the past 90 days, 293 insurgent leaders have been captured or killed, and the Taliban are finding it increasingly difficult to replace commanders, according to a senior operations adviser at NATO headquarters in Kabul.

Over the same period, 858 lower-level militants have been killed and another 2,169 foot soldiers captured, although some could end up back on the battlefield, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of coalition activities.

The Taliban deny they are being beaten down.

"In some areas, the enemy (the coalition) cannot move forward due to fear of ambushes and strikes with improvised explosive devices," the Taliban said in a statement posted on its website. "Afghan Taliban fighters have not felt much impact from the campaign, but have turned to guerrilla tactics and not moving around in large numbers."