U.S. General: Taliban Trying to Go Big Before Winter Comes

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The spokesman for U.S. operations in Afghanistan warned that the Taliban are "absolutely" trying to capture a provincial capital on a short timetable as they "realize that they're coming close to the end of the year and they wanna do it before the winter sets in."

Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland also told reporters via video from Kabul on Friday that U.S. officials are still investigating the deaths of two Americans in what was described as an insider attack by a man in an Afghan army uniform at Camp Morehead.

The Defense Department said Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Ill., and Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester, Okla., an Army civilian employee, were killed this week in Kabul after "encountering hostile enemy forces."

Cleveland said an American team of advisers was sent out "to conduct essentially an inspection of any ammunition supply point."

"And this is not an uncommon event; it's part of our work with the ministries here, because obviously trying to help the Afghans learn how to do this is really part of building an institution, and so again this is not an everyday occurrence. But it is also not uncommon occurrence," he said.

"The actual ASP was just on the edge of an Afghan base, so the team drove up, they walked to the entry control... and it was some point there where the incident happened, where they received fire. The incident was over relatively soon, and as we've described, the shooter was found dead. He was wearing an Afghan uniform. Obviously the investigation is seeking to confirm whether or not this qualifies officially as an insider attack, or a 'green on blue,' because we do not yet have the identity of the shooter, and that's something that will come about with the investigation."

The Taliban did not explicitly claim responsibility for the attack, but promoted and lauded it. "May Allah accept him as martyr!" they said in a short report on the incident on their website.

The Obama administration has refused to call the Taliban terrorists and has strongly advocated a peace deal with the group even as they continue to wage attacks.

"The goal for the government of Afghanistan is to ultimately come to a negotiated solution with the Taliban," Cleveland said. "So our expectation, and we said this before, is it there is really not a military solution to what is happening here in Afghanistan."

On the Taliban's aim to take a provincial capital, the general noted their stabs at Lashkar Gah and Kunduz. "The last few weeks have certainly reinforced to us ...this is a tough fight and we do have a ways to go."

He said a big reason the Taliban attacked Kunduz at the beginning of the month was "it got an awful lot of press coverage" and "helps put additional suffering on the people of Kunduz, and when that happens, that then puts additional pressure on the government."

"We saw the Taliban absolutely destroy parts of the city. They destroyed the power grid, which then resulted in a loss of electricity and water. We saw them go ahead and destroy cell towers, as well as several civilian residences," Cleveland added.

"And the situation was obviously not anything that anybody wanted to see. At the end of the day, the ANDSF did successfully hold the city, and then they subsequently cleared the city. And it did take them a while, but those in the military do know that to try and clear an enemy out of an urban environment and not cause further destruction is a very difficult tactical problem."

Cleveland said the Taliban "control or influence about 10 percent of the Afghan population."

"We believe that the government controls about two-thirds of the population," he said. "And then the balance between the two is really the contested area."