A senior NATO commander said Wednesday that two U.S. lawmakers are flat wrong in their assessment that the Taliban is gaining steam in Afghanistan, insisting that the take by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California "is contrary to everything we're seeing in our reporting."
NATO forces have slowed their Taliban foes significantly, British Army Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, taking a rare stand against two senior U.S. lawmakers who told CNN on Sunday that they are troubled by developments in the decade-old war.
Bradshaw told reporters there is "clear evidence" that the Taliban's "momentum has been reversed."
Rogers and Feinstein, having returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, told CNN that the Taliban is gaining strength.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai "believes the Taliban will not come back," said Feinstein on CNN on Sunday. "I am not so sure."
"What we both found is the Taliban is stronger," Feinstein said, asking Rogers: "Do you agree?"
"I do," Rogers said, adding: "This is a huge problem."
Their shared view is stunning because it represents the rarest occurrence these days in Washington: Senior lawmakers of differing parties agreeing on a major policy problem.
The uniformed Bradshaw, in a striking moment of candor, took umbrage with the civilian lawmakers' view.
"The line taken by the congressmen is contrary to everything we're seeing in our reporting," Bradshaw said, underscoring a growing divide between public comments by uniformed commanders and civilian officials in Washington about the Taliban. "In 2011, we've seen their ability to mount attacks reduced by 10 percent," Bradshaw said of the Taliban. In the early months of this year, NATO commanders claim "a similar trend," he added.
U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces use tactics like special operations raids to capture and kill Taliban leaders and operatives, the British three-star general said. "They are feeling this pressure," Bradshaw said.
In a statement provided to U.S. News & World Report, Rogers cited an increase in violence in northern areas and political assassinations by Taliban forces and their allies.
On CNN, Feinstein noted "the Taliban has a shadow of governors in many provinces."
Meantime, Bradshaw's assessment was far from a declaration that victory is near.
The Taliban is "still a force to be reckoned with," he said. "They're still posing a challenge that has to be addressed."
President Obama has set a goal for removing most U.S. forces by 2014, though some would remain for things like training Afghan troops and providing them with combat support. Most of Washington's NATO allies plan to follow America out of Afghanistan in 2014, though France's new president-elect, Francois Hollande, has suggested he will remove French troops this year.
Bradshaw told reporters via a video feed that French generals in Afghanistan express a much different desire, saying they have an "absolute commitment to staying until December 2014."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.