U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a surprise visit to Afghanistan said while high-profile attacks and other violence are likely to continue, the security trajectory remained positive.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY, LEON PANETTA, SAYING:
"As always we have not won, we have not completed this mission, but I do believe we are in the process of making significant progress here. Clearly we have seen reduced violence, the most reduced violence in five years. We have seen our ability to weaken the Taliban significantly."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai added that combined forces had brought stability to the region.
SOUNDBITE) (English) AFGHAN PRESIDENT, HAMID KARZAI, SAYING:
"The cooperation of the United States and NATO forces with the Afghans has brought Afghanistan stability overall. Political stability and the stability of the state, moving towards a better future with accomplishment that we have spoken about before I need not repeat. What we have not fully done yet is to provide individual security to the Afghan people."
U.S. officials are hoping to conclude a strategic agreement with Afghanistan that would lay out, in principle, a U.S. military presence after 2014. But that document has been held up by disagreement over military night raids - which Karzai wants to end but which Western military officials say are critical.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan lies in Pakistan, where there is heavy insurgent activity along the colonial-era border.
Tension between Pakistan and the United States has spiked since NATO aircraft killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers along the border last month in an attack NATO described as a "tragic, unintended incident". Pakistan shut down a key NATO supply route in retaliation and refused to cooperate with an investigation.
Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters