But the optimistic tone of the report was tempered by assessments from senior officials in Kabul and Washington that the Taliban and other insurgent groups were expected to attempt spectacular counterattacks, perhaps in the near future.
Fighting across Afghanistan usually increases each year with the spring thaw, and Pentagon and military officials say they expect insurgent leaders to make a major effort soon to prove that their loss of territory to Mr. Obama’s troop increase could be reversed this year.
A senior Pentagon official agreed that the latest update’s tone was more optimistic, even if cautiously so, than that of previous reports, which since 2009 have described the security situation in Afghanistan as deteriorating. Congress requires the progress reports twice a year.
American, allied and Afghan forces have halted the insurgency’s momentum and have achieved “tangible progress in some really key areas,” the Pentagon official said.
Echoing a view often expressed by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, the official warned that the assessment clearly noted that the advances were fragile and reversible.
“It does show progress,” said the official, who briefed reporters under ground rules imposed by the Pentagon that precluded identifying him by name. “It also points out that we do have a resilient enemy,” the official added.
There remain significant shortages of foreign trainers, hampering the development of Afghan security forces, the official noted. And progress in economic development and governance has not kept pace with advances on the battlefield. In addition, corruption across all levels of government puts the military’s gains at risk.
“There is still a lot to do,” the official said. He agreed with military and intelligence officers who said that the public should “expect spectacular attacks” by the insurgency.
The Taliban recently scored both a tactical and a propaganda victory with a major prison break of insurgent fighters. In anticipation of an increasing pace of attacks and bombings, the official contended that individual acts of insurgent violence would not be enough to derail the allied and Afghan campaign.
Noting advances made by allied and Afghan security forces, in particular in the insurgent heartland of southern Afghanistan, the official said that “the pushback of the Taliban out of these key areas in the last year is really a strategic defeat for the Taliban.”
“How they respond, whether it’s attacks there, attacks elsewhere, I don’t know,” the official said. “But given that strategic setback that they’ve suffered, they’re going to try and send messages to the population in other ways that they’re going to be able to come back. And that’s going to be a big challenge for the Afghan forces, for us, as those efforts are made.”
The report on progress and stability in Afghanistan again cited the harmful effects of the safe havens that insurgent fighters maintain across the border in Pakistan, allowing them to rest, plan and train before moving back into Afghanistan to mount attacks.
The report was released as General Petraeus was finalizing his proposals for how quickly to start withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan in July, as ordered by the president.