US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday told troops during a visit to Afghanistan that the US-led coalition was winning the 10-year conflict in the war-torn country.
"We're moving in the right direction and we're winning this very tough conflict," he told troops based in Paktika province, which shares a long, porous border with Pakistan's tribal belt troubled by Taliban militancy.
"Are there challenges out there? You're damn right, there are challenges. Are we gonna be able to take on those challenges? You're damn right we will.
"Ultimately here in Afghanistan, we will able to establish a country that is able to govern and secure itself, we will make sure that the Taliban will never be able to find safe haven here, that Al-Qaeda will never again be able to find safe havens here."
Panetta made the comments as he met US troops from 172 Infantry Brigade stationed at Forward Operating Base Sharana, just over 50 kilometres (35 miles) from the Pakistan border.
His two-day visit to the country comes with the United States on track to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and NATO soldiers handing security to Afghan forces before the planned exit of all NATO combat troops in 2014.
Panetta said 2014 would not mean the end of international support in Afghanistan.
"We will not simply pick up and get out. We spilled too much blood here," he said.
His visit comes with America's Pakistan alliance in crisis over NATO strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border on November 26.
Pakistan responded by shutting the US supply line into landlocked Afghanistan, saying the blockade could last weeks longer, and forcing Americans to leave an air base widely reported to have been a hub for CIA drones.
Panetta said it was important to make sure Pakistan could secure their side of the border.
"Its difficult, it's complex, but at the same time it's important to maintain a relationship with Pakistan," he said.
by Daniel De Luce
© 2011 AFP