In this New York Times article, Carlotta Gall confirms what I’ve seen for myself and what I’ve been hearing from numerous sources: the Taliban have lost significant ground in southern Afghanistan and have not been able to come close to winning it back despite the start of the spring-summer fighting season. This is quite a change from the conditions that prevailed only a year ago when the Taliban had virtual free run in significant portions of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Not anymore. As Gall writes:
The change is palpable. In Marja, the district in Helmand Province where American Marines began the offensive 15 months ago, government officials can now drive freely. Last year, they could arrive only by helicopter, such was the threat of roadside bombs and ambushes.
In neighboring Kandahar Province, the heartland of the insurgency, Taliban commanders who have ventured back for the new fighting season were detained or chased out of the area within hours of arriving from Pakistan, villagers and officials say.
In both places, the insurgency is now mostly limited to small groups of local fighters who lay mines or carry out assassinations or suicide bombings in the cities, attacks which are more important psychologically than strategically, residents and Afghan and NATO officials say. Casualties remain high — and in the case of civilian deaths reached a new record in May. Yet the Taliban are no longer the dominant presence they once were.
Needless to say, the battle is far from won. Afghans still have considerable skepticism about whether their own government can fill the vacuum left by the Taliban–and whether the Americans will stay around long enough to keep the Taliban from coming back. But there is little doubt tremendous progress has been made — far more than commonly realized. All the more reason for President Obama not to order major troop drawdowns this summer which could undo these hard-fought gains.