US general warns more troops or Afghan 'failure'

Published: Monday September 21, 2009

The top military commander in Afghanistan warns in a classified document that more US forces are needed within the next year or the mission "will likely result in failure," the Washington Post said Monday.

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in the country, writes in a grim assessment of the eight-year conflict: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

The document, first obtained by the Post, was presented to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on August 30 and is currently being reviewed by the White House.

In some of the most alarming passages of the report, McChrystal, who has been widely expected to submit a formal request to increase the 62,000-strong US force, noted the campaign in Afghanistan "has been historically under-resourced and remains so today."

As such, he wrote, "[I]nadequate resources will likely result in failure."

Inability to provide adequate resources, he writes, "also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure."

The 66-page document -- a declassified version of which is published at -- describes a strengthening, intelligent enemy in the Taliban insurgency.

McChrystal also slams the corruption-riddled Afghan government and a strategy by international forces in the country that has failed to win over the civilian population.

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and (the International Security Assistance Force's) own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," wrote McChrystal.

International forces, he said, "have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect... The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."

The general, who Gates nominated to take over operations because his "new thinking" was needed as President Barack Obama attempts a new strategy for the war-torn country, also warns that hardline insurgents reach systematically into Afghanistan's bloated prison system for recruits.

The prisons have become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the Afghan government and coalition forces, he said in the report.

Whatever happens in the short run, the commander warns it "is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase."

Obama weighed in Sunday on the debate over more troops in Afghanistan, as he digests McChrystal's report.

"We're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm's way, we are defeating Al-Qaeda," the president said in an interview with ABC.

"(If) that can be shown to a skeptical audience -- namely me, somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops -- then we will do what's required to keep the American people safe," Obama said.

Gates said this week that the president needed time to examine various assessments of US strategy and should not be rushed over such an important decision.

"We need to take our time and get this right," he told a news conference on Thursday.

Earlier in the week Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services committee that more soldiers would likely be needed to subdue the Taliban.

"A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces and, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance," Mullen told lawmakers.

By coincidence, McChrystal's report was revealed on the UN's International Peace Day, when Kabul's defense ministry said foreign and Afghan troops will pause offensive operations.

Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, purportedly a Taliban spokesman, was quoted on the ReliefWeb website as suggesting the insurgency may do the same, saying: "Our forces will remain in defensive position, as usual."

Foreign forces in Afghanistan, experiencing their deadliest year since the war began eight years ago with more than 350 deaths so far in 2009, are sceptical the rebels will keep their word.