WASHINGTON/KABUL, (Reuters) – The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan not to ask for extra troops until the Obama administration completes a strategy review, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned in a confidential assessment leaked to the media on Monday that without additional troops the mission “will likely result in failure”.
A senior Pentagon official said the administration had asked for the reprieve so it can complete a review of the U.S.-led war effort, the Journal reported. “We have to make sure we have the right strategy” before looking at additional troop requests, the official told the newspaper. “Things have changed on the ground fairly considerably.”
There are already more than 100,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan battling an insurgency that has taken control of parts of the south and east of the country in what has so far been the deadliest year for foreign troops since 2001.
The leaking of McChrystal’s military report, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he backs, piles more pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama, already squeezed by ebbing public support and scepticism in his own party over troop levels.
Obama has said in interviews over the past week he will consider deploying more troops after a proper U.S. strategy for Afghanistan has been determined.
McChrystal’s troop request, which some officials anticipate would include roughly 30,000 new combat troops and trainers, is expected to be submitted to Washington in the coming weeks.
Asked about the Journal report, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the hope was that the matter would be resolved soon. “As Secretary (Robert) Gates said last week, he and others are still working through the process by which General McChrystal will submit his resource request for review,” Morrell said. “It is important to remember that regardless of when General McChrystal sends forth his request, the president first wants to fully discuss his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and the strategy we are pursuing there before considering any additional resources for that effort,” Morrell said.
McChrystal’s assessment comes at a critical time for Afghanistan, when the war is at its deadliest since it started in 2001 and as Afghans await delayed presidential election results while thousands of complaints and accusations of fraud against incumbent Hamid Karzai are audited by a U.N.-backed watchdog.
In an interview with news channel CNN, Karzai supported McChrystal’s assessment and said the commander’s call for more troops was “the right approach … and we back it”. “I found some very important elements in the report that I fully back … where General McChrystal is asking for more resources in all aspects to boost the effort against terrorism he has our support there too fully,” Karzai said in an interview from Kabul.
McChrystal’s report places fresh emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians and engaging their support, and says the military must be more focused on the population than on “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces”. Some 800 Afghan civilians were killed between January and May this year alone, according to the United Nations, just over a third of the casualties caused by international and Afghan forces and more than half by insurgents. “We welcome what McChrystal has indicated, that protecting Afghan civilians forms the centre piece of military strategy,” Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations in Kabul, said. “That’s a welcome move.”