The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said on Monday he believes he could help Afghan forces drive back the Taliban enough to control at least 80 percent of the country within two years, compared with about two-thirds today.
General John Nicholson, citing counter-insurgency doctrine, said gaining 80 percent control of the country would represent a turning point in the 16-year-old conflict, which has become the longest U.S war.
"This we believe is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they're living in these remote outlying areas, or they reconcile, or they die," Nicholson told a Pentagon news briefing via video conference from Afghanistan .
His remarks carried echoes of a U.S.-led strategy that began in 2009 and was accompanied by a massive surge in U.S. forces, which peaked in 2011 at more than 100,000 troops.
Many areas that were regained during U.S.-led operations eventually reverted to Taliban control when Western forces turned them over to the Afghans.