KABUL (Agencies) - Besides well-reported advances in southern provinces, American and NATO forces have also been able to halt or reverse Taliban gains around the capital, Kabul, and even in the north and west of the country, General David H Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said. The general made his case for an improving overall picture in Afghanistan in an interview with New York Times, offering a preview of what is likely to be his argument next week when he testifies before Congress for the first time since he took over command of coalition forces in Afghanistan eight months ago. The momentum of the Taliban has been halted in much of the country and reversed in some important areas, he said. The Taliban have never been under the pressure that they were put under over the course of the last 8 to 10 months, he added. Other aspects of the war remain difficult, and progress is patchy and slow, Petraeus conceded. In 2009, Kabul was encircled by Taliban forces and there was talk of the capitals falling to the insurgents, but now much of the greater Kabul area has been secured, he said. You cannot eliminate all the sensationalist attacks, he said. That is one of the objectives for our spring offensive to solidify those gains and push them back further. Over the past four months, coalition forces have seen a fourfold increase in the number of weapons and explosives caches found and cleared, in large measure because the Taliban were forced out of territory they had held for up to five years, he said. The Taliban had to leave hastily, and the fighters and leaders were killed, captured or run off, and if they were run off they could not cart off all the IED and weapons and explosives that they had established over five years in some cases, the general said, referring to improvised explosive devices. Many of the Taliban leaders and fighters had escaped to sanctuaries in Pakistan, he said, and coalition forces would focus in coming months on a strategy called 'defence and depth, blocking their return through strategic border regions that the insurgents traditionally used, namely in southern Helmand, eastern Kandahar and eastern Nangarhar Provinces, where Afghanistan borders Pakistan, and preventing them from regaining control of their old havens in Afghanistan. The March 1 episode came soon after a more controversial attack in the same region that the Afghan government said killed 65 civilians on Feb 17. Karzai rejected General Petraeuss earlier explanation that the victims were Taliban fighters, and he refused to accept his apology on Sunday for the deaths of the nine boys. President Obama and Defence Secretary Robert Gates have also apologized to Karzai and the Afghan people for the deaths. This kind of event does clearly undermine the trust between the Afghan government and ISAF, and more important, between the Afghan people and ISAF, Petraeus conceded. The full investigation was nearly complete, he said, and a review had been ordered of the tactical directive given to troops. He declined comment on the Feb 17 episode.