WASHINGTON - The No. 2 American commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday he believes the stage has been set for winning the war, but hard fighting lies ahead for Afghan forces now suffering heavy casualties.
Army Lt. Gen. Mark Milley also told reporters by video teleconference from his headquarters in Kabul that he thinks the Taliban no longer are capable of overthrowing the U.S.-backed Afghan government. But, he said, the insurgents are resilient and capable of continuing to fight "for a fairly long period of time."
The U.S. and its NATO allies are due to complete their combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2014.
"Right now I would say that the conditions are set for winning this war. But it is not yet won, and it is not yet over," Milley said.
He said the Taliban have failed to achieve their 2013 strategic goal of regaining lost ground.
"This is a very resilient enemy, it's an adaptive enemy and I don't think for a minute that the Taliban or their kind are going to kind of fade away into the dust here in the next year or two. That's not going to happen," Milley said.
Milley said the war's momentum has shifted in favor of the Afghan government, even though its army and police are taking heavy casualties - 50 to 100 killed per week.
It is an "open question" whether the Afghans can sustain that loss rate, he said, but he also predicted that the casualties would not "break" the Afghans' will.
"These guys are absolutely determined to fight for their country, and they're doing a good job at it. And, yes, they are suffering," he said. "Is it sustainable or unsustainble? I think that's an open question."
He said the Afghan troops are resilient - "aware that if they fail in their fight they'll live under Taliban rule again."