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Taliban losing ability to attack broadly, Panetta says

Insurgent attacks like the one at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul yesterday indicate the Taliban are losing their ability to attack coalition forces on a broad scale, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

The attack was a concern, Panetta told reporters, but the Afghan security forces responded well.

“Any time [insurgents] can make their way into Kabul or into the capital, that’s cause for concern,” the secretary said, “but at the same time, the force … responded quickly, casualties were limited, and we were able to basically defeat their effort.”

Seven insurgents were killed during clearing operations, along with four insurgent suicide bombers. Five Afghan National Police officers and 11 Afghan civilians, about half of them children, also were killed in the attack, and another 19 Afghan civilians were wounded.

A small number of coalition forces were injured, but none fatally, officials said.

Panetta said he was participating in a secure video teleconference with Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, when the attack began.

“In talking to General Allen and asking him for an assessment,” Panetta said, “he basically said that overall we have continued to reduce the violence level in Afghanistan, [and] we continue to seriously weaken the Taliban through our operations.”

Allen’s view, “and I share it,” the secretary said, “is that these kinds of attacks -- sporadic attacks and assassination attempts -- are more a reflection of the fact that they are losing their ability to attack our forces on a broader scale.”

The attackers, Panetta said, may be from the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.

“We obviously suspect that the Haqqanis were involved,” he said, “but we’re still trying to get clear evidence of that.”

The Haqqani network claimed credit for a large truck bomb that exploded Sept. 10 near a combat outpost in Afghanistan’s Wardak province, he added, wounding 77 U.S. soldiers and killing five Afghans, including a child.

Panetta said he’s concerned about the Haqqani attacks because they’re killing people and because the attackers escape into a safe haven in Pakistan.

“That’s unacceptable,” the secretary said, adding that members of the network need to know that the United States is going to do everything it can to defend its forces. U.S. officials have made little progress as they’ve urged the Pakistani government “time and again” to exercise its influence over the Haqqani network, he told reporters.

“We are not going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on,” Panetta said.

The secretary arrived here today to participate in the annual U.S.-Australia Ministerial Consultations.

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