By Joe Sterling
In what a new Pentagon report calls "a fundamental shift in the course" of the Afghan conflict, local security forces are improving their performance and "successfully providing security for their own people."
But according to a report to Congress on Friday, the successes come with a cost: a sharp increase in security force casualties during this year's April to September fighting season and challenges remaining for the indigenous force after U.S. forces leave.
This snapshot of the security forces is all-important as the United States prepares to withdraw all of its troops from the country by the end of next year.
The report said the Afghan National Security Forces "have seen their capabilities expand rapidly since 2009, while insurgent territorial influence and kinetic capabilities have remained static." But the report also says more needs to be done.
By Mike Mount
Afghan President Hamid Karzai showed up to the Pentagon on Thursday with a wish list of military equipment to ensure the security of his country by the time NATO forces leave at the end of 2014.
In return, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had a message to deliver – the United States wants to make sure Afghanistan does not become a terrorist safe haven again.
Karzai's meeting with Panetta, occurring under a cloud of mistrust between both countries, was expected to have some tough talk about the future of Afghanistan. But publicly, the image seemed like there was no trouble at all.
It was the first stop for the Afghan president who was to have dinner with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday and meet with President Barack Obama on Friday.
By Mike Mount
The United States could keep between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after the official 2014 NATO withdrawal, say officials familiar with plans submitted to the Pentagon by the current U.S. commander in that country, Gen. John Allen.
Allen was tasked with developing an overarching plan for how U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan over the next two years, as well as solidifying a post-international combat troop presence. Now he has offered three distinctive options for the president, according to senior defense officials.
The officials said Allen's plans - created with input from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's office, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Central Command, and the White House - would give President Barack Obama options based on what he is looking to do in Afghanistan.
The plans are awaiting official approval from Panetta, the officials said.
By Chris Lawrence
Pentagon officials are considering a preliminary assessment by Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, on "what he needs going forward" in the country as the U.S. looks to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, a U.S. official tells CNN.
One of the options being considered is "to keep a force of roughly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan post-2014," according to the official who did not want to be identified discussing ongoing deliberations. The official said that force would comprise a small number of special operations forces dedicated to counterterrorism missions, while the remaining troops "would either continue to train and advise Afghan forces, or assist with logistical issues such as medical evacuations and air support operations."
The "10,000 option" is just one of several being examined, the official said. The options represented "different ends of the spectrum" in terms of troop levels, the official added, but the official did not provide any detail as to what those options are.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not presented a formal recommendation to the White House, Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Monday. FULL POST
By Mike Mount with reporting from Chris Lawrence, Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
A CIA officer was among those killed in Afghanistan in a suicide attack that also killed an American soldier, according to a U.S. official.
The attack, which occurred Saturday in southern Kandahar province, also killed four Afghan National Security troops, according to a U.S official with knowledge of the details of the attack.
The attack is believed to have been a case of an Afghan security force member attacking his own forces, the official said.
By Barbara Starr
A deadly assault on American forces in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend stokes fears of a disturbing new form of "insider attack" - an assault on coalition forces by an Afghan military unit rather than a lone attacker.
U.S. forces apparently took fire on Saturday from several Afghan troops shooting at them from several directions, according to a U.S. military official familiar with initial results of the investigation.
NATO and Afghan officials investigating the Wardak province assault are expected to make their findings public soon, maybe as early as Wednesday, the official said.
By Larry Shaughnessy
One of Washington's foremost analysts of military issues has some harsh words about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's take on the insider attack problem in Afghanistan, calling it "absurd."
During a recent trip to Japan, Panetta was asked about U.S. and other International Security Assistance Force troops being killed by members of the Afghan security forces, or insurgents dressed like them.
He said, "And we think, frankly, it is kind of a last gasp effort to be able to not only target our forces, but to try to create chaos, because they've been unable to regain any of the territory that they have lost." On Thursday, Panetta reiterated his point during a briefing with reporters, saying, "It's near the end of their effort to really fully fight back."
"Quite frankly i think that most intelligent people and military people would privately think that Secretary Panetta's comments are absurd, perhaps harmful. Because they just can't be taken seriously," said Anthony Cordesman a senior analyst at CSIS, a major Washington think tank, and a recipient of Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award for his work at the Pentagon before joining CSIS. "They are not at the last gasp, all they really have to do is at this point outwait us, constantly put pressure on areas that give them political visibility. They don't have to defeat ISAF, it's leaving."
While Cordesman does not agree with Panetta's remarks, he says that doesn't mean the Taliban is on the road to victory.
"The fact that statement clearly is untrue doesn't mean that necessarily the Taliban can win," Cordesman said. "Whether this will give them control of the country or not is something nobody can determine. It's a long way from talking about last gasp."
Even Panetta conceded Thursday that insider attacks may not be the Taliban's final arrow in their insurgent quiver. "Whether or not, you know, it's the end of their bag of tactics to come at us I think is still an open question."
By Anna Coren, reporting from Delaram, Afghanistan
U.S. Marines stand under the blazing sun at Camp Bastion airfield waiting for their ride to take them far beyond the perimeter fence.
Wearing body armor and weapons, they dump their helmets and bags in the dirt and look out onto one of Afghanistan's busiest runways.
A $25 million Harrier jet flies past, leaving the roar of its engine in its wake, while a monstrous C-130 Hercules touches down to pick up troops and cargo. An Osprey helicopter - half helicopter, half plane - hovers in the distance before landing to join the dozen other Ospreys sitting on the tarmac.
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From Masoud Popalzai, CNN
U.S. Special Operations Forces has suspended the training of Afghan Local Police recruits while it double checks the background of the current police force following a rise in attacks against NATO troops by their Afghan counterparts, an official said Sunday.
The order follows reports that more than 40 NATO troops were killed this year by either members of the Afghan security forces or by insurgents disguised as an Afghan policeman or soldier.
"Current partnered operations have and will continue, even as we temporarily suspend training of about 1,000 new ALP recruits while revetting current members," said Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
"While we have full trust and confidence in our Afghan partners, we believe this is a necessary step to validate our vetting process and ensure the quality indicative of Afghan Local Police."
President Obama is "deeply concerned" about the growing number of deadly attacks on U.S. forces by Afghan security forces, and plans to contact the Afghan president to discuss taking tougher actions, he said Monday.
"I'll be reaching out to President (Hamid) Karzai," Obama told reporters at the White House, adding, "We've got to make sure that we're on top of this."