NEW YORK - Facing intense insurgent pressure, the US military has begun to pull back most of its forces from a hotly-contested Afghan valley it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, a leading American newspaper reported Friday. The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb 15, The New York Times said in a dispatch from Kabul. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the provinces more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley. According to the report, American officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own. They fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valleys maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely. Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. People say, 'You are coming out of the Pech; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people, said Maj Gen John Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. I dont want the impression were abandoning the Pech. The reorganisation, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war, the Times said. American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case. President Barack Obamas Afghan troop build-up is now fully in place, and the United States military has its largest-ever contingent in Afghanistan. Obamas reinforced campaign has switched focus to operations in Afghanistans south, and to building up Afghan security forces. The previous strategy emphasised denying sanctuaries to insurgents, blocking infiltration routes from Pakistan and trying to fight away from populated areas, where NATOs superior firepower could be massed, in theory, with less risk to civilians. The Pech Valley effort was once a cornerstone of this thinking.