U.S. and international military teams led their Afghan counterparts in a counterinsurgency offensive in the restive southern province of Helmand.
Michele Flournoy, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the mission was "going well so far," the Defense Department said.
Flournoy, echoing sentiments expressed by top military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, said the Helmand offensive is setting the stage for clearing operations planned for neighboring Kandahar province.
"I think you'll see Kandahar will closely follow, but central Helmand had to come first," she said Monday.
Military officials expressed optimism that the Helmand offensive was proceeding as planned. Provincial planners installed Haji Zahir as the mayor of the former Taliban stronghold of Marja in Helmand as part of the "hold" phase in the counterinsurgency operation.
Flournoy said that despite the progress, there was still work ahead as Taliban militants show resolve against international forces.
"Inevitably, we will face some setbacks even as we make progress," she said. "And, we need to be prepared for the possibility that things will get harder before better."