'Tough year ahead in Afghanistan'
International and Afghan government forces are preparing to hunt down the Taliban in their winter "safe havens", the senior British commander in Afghanistan has said.
Lieutenant General James Bucknall said it was essential the international coalition, Isaf, was able to maintain momentum into the winter months when the tempo of fighting in Afghanistan usually drops.
Speaking in Kabul via a videolink to reporters in London, Gen Bucknall said that while important security gains had been made in the course of 2010, they were not yet "irreversible".
He warned that the coalition faced a "tough fight" in the coming year as it sought to consolidate and extend the "progress" that had been made.
Gen Bucknall said the US troop surge meant Isaf now had the resources to go after insurgents in their retreats in central Afghanistan, northern Helmand and Daykondi where they normally sit out the harsh Afghan winter.
"We have got to deny the insurgents the traditional safe havens which they have harboured in during the winter months," he said. "Very often we have lacked the reach and the legs and the resources to go after them in those areas.
"I think we can expect a mixture of conventional and special forces operations to continue to disrupt the insurgents in those areas in the winter months."
Gen Bucknall insisted that the pace of special forces operations, targeting the Taliban leadership, now even outstripped that achieved during the height of the campaign in Iraq.
"The increase in special forces has enabled a relentless tempo of special forces operations in recent months," he said.
"We have remarkable target-precision that is causing significant attrition to the insurgents' mid-level leadership. We know that they are impacting on morale and supplies."