The Taliban in Afghanistan will never be completely defeated and this year's fighting season is still "up for grabs," the commander of NATO-led forces in southwestern Afghanistan said Wednesday.
"If we think the Taliban will be completely destroyed, that's not feasible. They'll continue to show up," Major General Lee Miller told reporters at the Pentagon during a briefing via satellite from Afghanistan.
“The key is to get the Afghan national security forces to the level where they can maintain security for the populace of Afghanistan," he added.
Miller said that in recent months Afghan forces have made significant progress in their ability to defend against Taliban attacks, citing success in an ongoing battle in Sangin, in Helmand Province -- an area that has been a hotbed for insurgents. The fighting, which began May 25, should be over in a matter of hours, Miller predicted.
Even with the expected Afghan Security Forces victory, Miller warned: "The fighting season is still up in the air and up for grabs."
With international combat troops preparing to withdraw by the end of 2014, Afghan forces are taking on new levels of responsibility during the warm weather months when most combat occurs.
Miller said Sangin shows that Afghans are increasingly ready for the challenge, saying that they have only asked for airlift and logistical support, and have turned down NATO offers for more aid.
Miller said the number of Taliban who attacked Sangin was only around 150, but a U.S. military official estimated the number was more than 200.
Those figures include some foreign fighters, Miller said, but when asked of their nationality he said only, "at this time, I'd prefer not to answer that."
In late 2010 more than 20,000 Marines were sent into Helmand to combat the Taliban in what was some of the bloodiest fighting in the 12-year war. It was one of the most dangerous places on earth and the marines sustained heavy casualties over several months of fighting.