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Petraeus: Picking up the pace on attacking Taliban

By Barbara Starr, CNN
  • Under his command, lethal airstrikes and ground actions have picked up
  • The increase appears to be working
  • The operations target insurgents in an effort to protect Afghan citizens

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said Saturday that he has not changed strategy in Afghanistan, insisting that he is still solely pursuing a counterinsurgency plan aimed at protecting Afghan citizens.

But as part of that effort, he makes no apology that under his command lethal airstrikes and ground actions have picked up.

In a briefing provided to CNN, a senior ISAF official offered a series of statistics underscoring the results of counterinsurgency operations, although he strongly emphasized he was not trying to present an overly rosy picture of the war.

The official noted that in the 90-day period ending October 21, special operations forces had conducted 3,438 operations --of which more than 1,500 involved the use of lethal force. In those operations, 339 insurgent leaders were killed or captured, and 2,461 additional rank-and-file insurgents captured, and 983 rank-and-file insurgents killed.

The official noted, however, a typical complexity of the insurgency: 75 percent of those captured are captured within a few miles of their homes, and are never held long term in detention.

Special operations forces during the same period conducted nearly 1,900 so-called "population centric" operations designed to assist Afghan civilians and local security forces, including helping train Afghan forces.

He also said that during a two-week period in early October, coalition forces successfully fought against a number of groups of fighters from the Haqqani network crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan who were attempting to wage large-scale attacks on coalition and Afghan bases in the border region. More than 120 Haqqani fighters were killed.

ISAF also provided the following additional data from its assessments:

--The number of civilians wounded and killed last quarter (July-September) was 20 percent lower than the same period last year, despite the increase in fighting and increased numbers of coalition forces and Afghan forces. ISAF believes this means that even with rising attacks, it is reducing the ability of insurgents to harm the Afghan civilian population.

--Violence has been centered in a small number of districts. In 2009, 50 percent of the violence was occurring in 14 districts. In 2010, 50 percent of the violence occurred in just 10 districts, with Helmand and Kandahar provinces accounting for the majority of attacks.

--Direct fire attacks such as ambushes, grenades, rockets and small arms account for the vast majority of all attacks against coalition forces. ISAF believes that is because a number of IED manufacturers and networks have been hit in those offensive strike operations, leaving insurgents with few other choices.

As for improvised explosive device trends:

--IED explosions increased 15 percent in the last quarter (July-September), compared to the same period last year. But with the rate of finding and disarming IEDs now hitting over 50 percent, ISAF believes the trend is being reversed. An ISAF official told CNN, "The efforts are beginning to bear fruit." In one region, the official said, "IED find and clear rates have increased by 70 percent while IED detonations have decreased by 20 percent" over the past three weeks. "Furthermore, during this time period only 11 percent of IEDs were effective in causing casualties."