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Pentagon: Afghan insurgency 'less effective' this year

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
  • NEW: Cordesman says the attacks are part of a war of perceptions
  • A Pentagon spokesman says 'walls have not been breached'
  • Afghan and coalition soldiers are aggressively fighting insurgents
  • The insurgents are resorting to more tactical operations, Little says

Washington (CNN) -- Explosions and gunfire in the heart of Kabul got plenty of attention Tuesday as insurgents attacked the heart of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

But in spite of the drama, the Pentagon press secretary said the insurgency's performance is "less effective" this year.

A small group of Afghan insurgents fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at the U.S. Embassy and the NATO headquarters in Kabul. Insurgent attacks were reported in other parts of the city as well.

But as of midday Tuesday, there were no reports of American or NATO forces being wounded or killed in the attacks. At least three Afghan police officers and one civilian were killed.

"It appears to have been a coordinated set of attacks, but walls have not been breached, to my knowledge, and there is, to be sure, a significant response from Afghan ground forces and from ISAF forces, too," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Tuesday.

"It has not resulted in the kind of destruction that the insurgents probably expected."

One Afghanistan expert believes the success of these kind of attacks is not really the key point.

"We have to remember this is not a tactical war. It's essentially a war of political attrition," said Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is a war of perceptions and it is a war of how people see -- in Afghanistan and outside it -- these attacks."

Cordesman says one goal of the attacks is to generate attention from the news media.

"Regardless of whether the attacks achieve the strategic result, the attacks in Kabul and Kandahar and elsewhere have a very major media effect. And the polls show a declining support for the United States," he said.

When asked if Tuesday's attack and other recent high-profile insurgent operations were signs that the Afghan insurgency was in its final throes, Little said, "I think that one thing we've seen in this fighting season is a less effective insurgency. They are resorting to these kinds of more tactical operations because they can't effect more widespread offensives."

Judging from at least one category, raw numbers seem to support the Pentagon's assertion.

From January 1 to August 31, 414 coalition troops died in Operation Enduring Freedom, according to statistics compiled by CNN from official NATO and Pentagon news releases. That includes the 30 killed when a helicopter carrying a Navy SEAL unit was shot down in August, the deadliest single attack of the 10-year war. But that's down significantly from the same period last year, when 490 troops died.

Little credited "American forces and our partners and the Afghans who have taken the fight in a very aggressive way to the insurgency and have suppressed their ability to conduct operations that they otherwise might have been able to conduct."

The Tuesday attacks will not sway the United States from its commitment to the transition to Afghan control of the war, Little said.