KABUL, (Reuters) – The commander of Western forces in Afghanistan returned to Kabul on Saturday after flying to Europe to deliver his request for more troops in person to U.S. and NATO commanders, his spokesman said.
General Stanley McChrystal gave his long-awaited request for more troops to U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, said spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis.
“At the end of that meeting General McChrystal did provide a copy of the force requirements to Admiral Mullen on the U.S. side and Admiral Stavridis on the NATO side,” Sholtis said. The unannounced meeting took place at an air base in Germany.
In a bleak assessment prepared last month and leaked to the media in recent days, McChrystal wrote that his mission would likely fail if he is not given reinforcements for his force, now more than 100,000 strong, including about 63,000 Americans.
Officials have not said exactly how many extra troops McChrystal believes he needs, although U.S. defence and congressional officials have suggested the request would be for about 30,000 extra troops.
President Barack Obama, who has already ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year, has described himself as a “sceptical audience” of the case for more troops. He has said he will not take a decision on McChrystal’s request until he finishes a thorough re-evaluation of the U.S. strategy in the region, a delay that has been criticised by Republican opponents. His administration is described as divided, with Vice President Joe Biden seen as favouring cutting back the force.
A Gallup poll published on Friday showed a fall in support for the war, with 50 percent of Americans opposed to sending more troops, while 41 percent supported it. Obama said he understood the public’s concerns.
“This is not easy and I would expect that the public would ask some very tough questions,” he told a news conference at a summit of world leaders in Pittsburgh on Friday. “That’s exactly what I’m doing, is asking some tough questions.”
McChrystal’s bleak assessment from last month said that the additional troops were needed to enact a new counter-insurgency strategy which would focus on protecting Afghans in populated areas and counter a strengthening Taliban-led insurgency.
Since then, increasing evidence of fraud in an Afghan presidential election has made the case for sending more troops to protect the Afghan government more difficult to defend. “What’s most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government,” Obama said. “If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult.”
A U.N.-backed watchdog found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” in the Aug. 20 vote and ordered a recount of some 3,000 polling stations, about 12 percent of the total.
Preliminary results showed President Hamid Karzai winning in a single round with 54.6 percent of the vote, but if enough of his ballots are nullified in the recount that he ends up with less than 50 percent, a second round must be held.
Afghanistan’s election authorities and the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) agreed this week to conduct the recount by studying just a sample of ballots from suspicious polling stations, to speed up the process.
Samples of 313 ballot boxes were randomly selected on Thursday to be audited in detail, the ECC said in a statement.
Officials hope to complete the recount of samples so that they can certify a result in the next two weeks, allowing a second round, if needed, to be held before winter weather sets in around the end of October.