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Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan • NATO's top commander in Afghanistan said Monday that a recent pledge by a southern Afghan tribe to stand up to the Taliban shows the military push in the country's most violent region is making headway and stifling the insurgents' "central nervous system."

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press in the southern city of Lashkar Gah that a shift in thinking by the Afghan government and NATO means that the tribe's risky move is being embraced rather than ignored. And that brings the hope that others may follow suit, he said.

Later Monday, Petraeus was on hand in Kabul to greet Vice President Joe Biden, who made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to assess progress toward the key objective of handing over security from international forces to Afghans. The White House said Biden, who was last here in January 2009, was to meet with President Hamid Karzai as well as U.S. troops.

Petraeus told the AP that the Taliban is losing sway in volatile Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south.

Petraeus said there is increasing dissension among the fighting ranks of the insurgency and that fighters are bristling at being ordered to battle through the winter by bosses sitting far away in Pakistan. Meanwhile, targeted strikes on midlevel leaders in Afghanistan have fractured the hierarchy, Petraeus said.

"The sheer losses that they've sustained are tremendous. That in and of itself is very significant and it's caused enormous stress on the central nervous system of the command and control structure," he said.

A prime indicator of this success, Petraeus said, is the announcement by the Alikozai tribe that they would halt insurgent attacks and expel foreign fighters from one of the most violent spots in the country — Helmand's Sangin district. The expansion of both NATO and Afghan forces in the region has made such a move much more tenable than it would have been a year ago, he said.

"It has pushed out the security bubble," Petraeus said, adding "2010 was a pretty bumper year for Helmand province." —

Bomber kills three

Insurgents on Monday staged the second suicide bombing in four days in a strategic border district in southern Afghanistan, signaling determination to open a new front in the battle with coalition forces in volatile Kandahar province. Two policemen and a civilian were killed in the attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. Separately, Western military officials acknowledged that the NATO force had apparently killed three Afghan policemen in an airstrike a day earlier, in the year's first deadly instance of "friendly fire." Afghan officials criticized a lack of coordination by Western troops.

Source • Los Angeles Times