NATO said Thursday that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan is being won, despite reports by other agencies of a sharp upsurge in insurgent attacks this year.
"While numerous challenges remain, there are some basic facts that highlight the improved security across the country," said US General Joseph Dunford, head of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Dunford said in a statement that almost eight million children are in school, 40 percent of whom are girls, compared with one million -- almost all boys -- under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule.
In 2002 only nine percent of Afghans had access to basic healthcare while now 85 percent can reach medical facilities in an hour, he said, and life expectancy was steadily rising.
"Under the Taliban, there were only 10,000 fixed phone lines, and today there are over 17 million people using cellphones," Dunford said.
Women now hold more than 25 percent of the seats in parliament and have a small but growing presence in the army and police, he said.
The Taliban were toppled from power in Kabul by a US-led invasion in 2001 and have been battling the Afghan government and US-led foreign forces since then.
Attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents rose 47 percent in January-March compared with the same period last year, according to figures from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.
The United Nations has separately reported a rise of almost 30 percent in civilian casualties in the first quarter compared with the same period last year, with 475 civilians killed and 872 wounded.
Dunford said 80 percent of enemy attacks were in areas where less than 20 percent of the population lives. More than 40 percent of all attacks happened in just 10 districts, mostly in the north of Helmand province and in the west of Kandahar province.
Equally importantly, he said, surveys showed that Afghans "will simply not tolerate the oppressive policies imposed by the former Taliban government".
The ISAF chief said that as the traditional fighting season begins, insurgents would face a combined Afghan army and police force of more than 350,000 which was "steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment".
The 100,000-strong ISAF force will end its combat mission by the end of next year and foreign troops are already pulling back from the frontlines. Afghan forces will soon take nationwide responsibility for security.
Some analysts are less confident in the abilities and motivation of Afghan forces, which suffer a high desertion rate. They predict a collapse of the Western-backed government and a return to civil war when foreign forces leave.
President Hamid Karzai's government dismisses such claims as Western media propaganda.