WASHINGTON– The United States continues to face severe security and governance challenges in Afghanistan this year, but U.S. efforts remain fixed on defeating extremism and boosting the Afghan government.

That’s the conclusion drawn in the latest Pentagon assessment of U.S. achievements and setbacks in Afghanistan. Congress requires the so-called “1230 Report” every 180 days.

The report released today covers the first half of 2009, a period during which President Barack Obama’s administration assessed the multinational effort in Afghanistan, unveiling a new strategy in late March.

The strategy has yielded the appointment of a new top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the deployment of 21,000 additional U.S. forces and renewed focus on the kinds of counterinsurgency efforts that proved successful in decreasing violence in Iraq. About 57,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, with NATO troops numbering some 34,000.

Today’s report, which captured data recorded from October to April, noted evidence of deterioration in Afghanistan’s security.

“Insurgents continued to attack U.S., international and Afghan security forces and continued to attempt to influence and intimidate the Afghan population,” the report states. “Insurgent-initiated attacks during the reporting period were 57 percent higher than during the same period the previous year.” Sixty-seven U.S. personnel were killed in action between October and May, a 24 percent increase from 2007-2008, it notes.

In addition to the normal uptick in violence that occurs during Afghanistan’s “fighting season,” which follows the harsh winter, a NATO forces decision to deny insurgents respite and pursue them in their winter enclaves was a factor in the higher casualty numbers, the report states.

But despite the increased violence against security forces, total civilian casualties, including those caused by multinational and insurgent forces, were down 9 percent between October and May, as compared to the same time last year, according to NATO data.

As insurgent activity spread to more areas in Afghanistan and occurred at higher frequencies than in previous years, Afghan assistance to its national security forces also increased. The report noted a slight increase during this period of Afghans turning over explosives and weapons caches.

Shortfalls in NATO International Security Assistance Force personnel and materiel remain, the report concludes. Although neither the International Conference on Afghanistan in March nor the NATO Summit in April yielded significant new military force contributions from NATO allies or the international community, the two conferences did yield significant new assistance to the efforts in Afghanistan, it states.

At the two-day NATO summit in Kehl, Germany, and Strasbourg, France, NATO allies offered to finance and provide more security — including 3,000 more personnel — for the Afghan election in August, to send 300 additional military trainers and mentors, and 70 NATO embedded training teams to help in growing the Afghan national army. Other pledges included $500 million for civilian assistance and $100 million in support of the Afghan army.

The report notes that Afghan forces have continued to improve. “If provided the necessary resources, the Afghan National Army will reach its currently authorized end-strength of 134,000 personnel by December 2011,” it states.

The bolstering of Afghan national forces is promising, as the report notes that training Afghan security forces to take on an increased role in operations is the principal objective of the new U.S. strategy behind providing security to the Afghan people.

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