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In Afghanistan, US military officials say it's now or never

In the weeks ahead in eastern Afghanistan, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers. It could be a key time for American forces, before US troops start exiting.

In this July 20, photo, an Afghan National Army Soldier who goes by the name of Mohammad (r.) takes a firing position next to US Marine Lance Cpl. John Brewer, of Southaven, Miss.

David Goldman/AP

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US military officials in Afghanistan warn that it’s now or never to make key advancements against insurgent fighters, with the surge of US forces at its zenith and the summer fighting season in full swing.

Yet Taliban forces in the east appear to be launching offensives of their own, with no intention of giving up easily, US military officials say.

Rates of violence bear testament to that resolve. Attacks by insurgents in the east nearly doubled between March 2010 and March 2011. That’s not unexpected, US military officials say, given the surge. They add that attacks in the month of July appear to be on a downward trajectory.

In the weeks ahead, however, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers to continue apace in the east, where insurgents often make use of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.

With 10,000 of the 30,000 US surge forces scheduled to return to the United States by year's end – the vast majority of which have been based in southern Afghanistan – there is a sense, too, that the clock is ticking for US commanders here.

“We have more forces [in Afghanistan] right now than we will ever have,” says Col. Clay Hall, commander of the US Air Force’s 455th Expeditionary Operations Group (EOG). “There’s a feeling of, ‘Let’s use them to maximum effect.’ As we pull out,” with fewer and fewer US troops on the ground, “those engagements are going to become less and less effective.”

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