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Report: Troops needed to avoid Afghan failure

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ANNE GEARAN
September 21, 2009
— The situation in Afghanistan is serious and growing worse and without more boots on the ground the United States risks failure in a war it's been waging since shortly after the terror attacks of September 2001, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, says in a confidential report.

"Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it," McChrystal wrote in a five-page Commander's Summary. His 66-page report, sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Aug. 30, is now under review by President Barack Obama.


Details of McChrystal's assessment were first reported late Sunday by The Washington Post. The newspaper posted a link to the report on its Web site, with some operational details withheld at the request of the Pentagon.


"Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating," McChrystal said of the war's progress.


While asserting that more troops are needed, McChrystal also pointed out an "urgent need" to significantly revise strategy. The U.S. needs to interact better with the Afghan people, McChrystal said, and better organize its efforts with NATO allies.


"We run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves," he wrote.


In his blunt assessment of the tenacious Taliban insurgency, McChrystal warned that unless the U.S. and its allies gain the initiative and reverse the momentum of the militants within the next year the U.S. "risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible"


The Pentagon and the White House are awaiting a separate, more detailed request for additional troops and resources. Media reports Friday and Saturday said McChrystal has finished it but was told to pocket it, partly because of the charged politics surrounding the decision. McChrystal's senior spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, told The Associated Press on Sunday the report is not complete.


Obama is re-evaluating whether the renewed focus on hunting al-Qaida that he announced just months ago has become blurred and whether more forces will do any good.


"Are we doing the right thing?" he asked during one of a series of interviews broadcast Sunday. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"


A spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said Sunday the Afghan government would not second-guess international military commanders on the need for more troops, but said that the greatest need is actually on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.


"The focus should be on those points and areas where the insurgency is infiltrating Afghanistan," he said, referring to the Pakistan border region where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters hide and plan attacks.


In Congress, the war has taken on a highly partisan edge. Senate Republicans are demanding more forces to turn around a war that soon will enter its ninth year, while members of Obama's own Democratic Party are trying to put on the brakes. Obama said in the Sunday interviews that he will not allow politics to govern his decision.


Nor has the president asked his top commander in Afghanistan to sit on a request for U.S. reinforcements in a backsliding war.


"No, no, no, no," Obama responded when asked whether he or aides had directed McChrystal to temporarily withhold a request for additional U.S. forces and other resources.


But he gave no deadline for making a decision about whether to send more Americans into harm's way.


"The only thing I've said to my folks is, 'A, I want an unvarnished assessment, but, B, I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question,'" Obama said. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, 'If I get more, then I can do more.'"


Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week he expected McChrystal's request for additional forces and other resources "in the very near future."


Other military officials had said the request would go to McChrystal's boss, Gen. David Petraeus, and up the chain of command in a matter of weeks. The White House discounted that timeline, but has remained vague about how long it would take to receive the report and act on it.


In the interviews taped Friday at the White House, Obama mentioned concerns about the "mission creep" that befell former President George W. Bush's attempt to build and prop up a viable democratic government in a country unaccustomed to central rule and sensitive to foreign meddling.


Obama said he's asking this question now of the military regarding his plan: "How does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?"


"If supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward," the president continued. "But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration."


Obama spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," and CBS' "Face the Nation."


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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.



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