LONDON — The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that foreign troops are on course to complete their security role by the end of 2014, but warned Taliban fighters will seek to regain ground in a looming spring offensive.
Gen. David Petraeus was speaking in London to the Royal United Services Institute, a military think tank, after he met Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Petraeus said Afghan President Hamid Karzai's goal of having Afghan police and soldiers protecting the entire nation by the end of 2014 is achievable, but stressed security gains made so far are still vulnerable.
Taliban fighters have been squeezed out of key parts of the southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where international troops will seek to link two so-called security bubbles in the coming months, he said.
"The Taliban wants to reverse all that. They want to regain these areas that were of such importance to them," Petraeus said. "But they will have to do it without owning those areas."
Petraeus told the audience of diplomats and defense officials that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had described the coming spring fighting season as likely to be far different from the experience of recent years.
The Taliban "will be playing an away game this year, rather than a home game as they have in the past."
Petraeus said that improving security and the continued training of the Afghan police and army means Karzai's 2014 deadline should be met.
Though he did not offer details, he also said recent successes would be reflected in the options he puts before President Barack Obama before the planned start of a drawdown of U.S. forces from July.
"I think that the progress, the very hard fought progress — as fragile, and reversible as it may be — has positioned us well not only for the transition activities ... but also to make the recommendation that I will be make to him, and the options that I will provide," he said.
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