Congressional leaders say Taliban is stronger

ANNE FLAHERTY Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees on Sunday declared that the Taliban had grown stronger since President Barack Obama's deployment of 33,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2010.

The pessimistic report by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, challenges Obama's own assessment last week in his surprise visit to Kabul that the "tide had turned" and that "we broke the Taliban's momentum."

In a joint interview, Feinstein and Rogers told CNN's "State of the Union" they aren't so sure. The two recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the region where they met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"President Karzai believes that the Taliban will not come back. I'm not so sure," said California's Feinstein. "The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces."

When asked if she agreed with the administration's assertion that the Taliban's capabilities have been degraded since Obama's "surge" in U.S. troops, Feinstein said: "I think we'd both say that what we've found is that the Taliban is stronger."

More than 1,800 U.S. troops have been killed in the decade-long war. About 88,000 service members remain deployed, down from a peak of more than 100,000 last year. More troops are expected to leave by the end of summer with all combat troops gone by the end of 2014.

The California senator said she wishes she had been able to sit down with Pakistan's leadership to discuss the need for more help from the country to break up the Haqqani network. Feinstein has previously said that legislation restricting U.S. aid to Pakistan would pass easily in the Congress.

Michigan's Rogers added that he and Feinstein agree the first step should be for the U.S. to designate the Haqqani group a terrorist network and "take aggressive steps" to disrupt their operations. The House chairman said the group is responsible for nearly 500 U.S. deaths and continues to operate outposts along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Republicans have turned the war into a campaign issue, despite waning public support for the war, by criticizing Obama for setting an end date for U.S. combat.

"We ought to have a hard discussion about saying listen, war is when one side wins and one side loses," said Rogers. "And if we don't get to that calculation of strategic defeat of the Taliban, you're not going to get to a place where you can rest assured that you (U.S. troops) can come home and a safe haven does not reestablish itself."