An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban so far has failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks to the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to US military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.
Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.
"The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience," said a senior Defence Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to "re-establish and rejuvenate," often within days of being routed by US forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, "I don't see it."
The Obama administration's plan to conduct a strategic review of the war in December has US military leaders seeking support for extending the American troop buildup and skeptics looking for arguments to wind down the nation's role.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has touted the success of recent operations and indicated that the military thinks it will be able to show meaningful progress by the December review. US intelligence officials present a similar, but inverted, view - noting tactical successes but warning that well into escalation of the conflict, there is little indication that the direction of the war has changed.
Among the troubling findings is that Taliban commanders who are captured or killed are often being replaced in a matter of days. Insurgent groups that have ceded territory in Kandahar and elsewhere seem content to melt away temporarily, leaving behind operatives to carry out assassinations or to intimidate villagers while waiting for an opportunity to return.
US officials said that Taliban operatives have adopted a refrain that reflects their focus on President Barack Obama's intent to start withdrawing troops next year. Attributing the words to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, officials said, operatives close out communications by saying, "The end is near."
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