WASHINGTON/KABUL, (Reuters) – The war against Afghanistan’s Taliban is likely to fail without additional forces and a new strategy, the top U.S. and NATO commander said as President Barack Obama faces resistance at home to sending more troops.
Army General Stanley McChrystal, in a confidential assessment, said failure to gain the initiative and reverse “insurgent momentum” in the near term risked an outcome where “defeating the insurgency is no longer possible”.
A copy of his 66-page assessment was obtained by The Washington Post and published on its website with some parts removed at the request of the government for security reasons. McChrystal’s spokesman in Kabul confirmed it was genuine.
McChrystal is expected to ask for a troop increase in the coming weeks to stem gains by a resurgent Taliban. The assessment stresses the need to engage with the Afghan people using a “new strategy” that requires a “dramatically” different approach to the war.
“Inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced,” McChrystal is quoted as saying.
McChrystal has already drawn up his request for more troops, which some officials expect will include roughly 30,000 new combat troops and trainers, but he has yet to submit it to Washington for consideration. The Pentagon says it is discussing how he will submit it.
A request for more troops faces resistance from within Obama’s Democratic Party, which controls Congress, and opinion polls show Americans are turning against the nearly eight-year-old war.
Obama said in interviews aired on Sunday he wanted to wait to determine the proper strategy for U.S. forces in Afghanistan before considering whether more troops should be sent there.
“I just want to make sure that everybody understands that you don’t make decisions about resources before you have the strategy ready,” he told ABC.
In his assessment, McChrystal painted a grim picture of the war, saying “the overall situation is deteriorating”. He called for a “revolutionary” shift in strategy which puts as much emphasis on gaining the support of Afghans as it does on killing insurgents.
“Our objective must be the population,” he wrote. “The objective is the will of the people, our conventional warfare culture is part of the problem, the Afghans must ultimately defeat the insurgency.”
The war in Afghanistan is now at its deadliest in eight years. McChrystal’s assessment said fighters had control over entire sections of the country, although it was difficult to say how much because of the limited presence of NATO troops. He also strongly criticised the Afghan government as having lost the faith of the country’s people.
“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government,” McChrystal said, refering to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Asked if McChrystal would consider resigning if he was not given the troops he needs, spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Tadd Sholtis, said: “There’s no consideration of that.”
Sholtis said that while the assessment made clear McChrystal does not believe he can defeat Afghanistan’s insurgency without additional troops, he could carry out a mission with different goals if ordered to by Obama. “The assessment is based on his understand of the mission as it was presented to him. If there’s a change in strategy, then the resources piece changes.”
The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has almost doubled this year from 32,000 to 62,000 and is expected to grow by another 6,000 by the year’s end. There are also some 40,000 troops from other nations, mainly NATO allies.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans now oppose the Afghan war while 39 percent support it, according to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll.
Obama’s Congressional critics, including his 2008 Republican presidential opponent Senator John McCain, have urged the administration to approve the deployment of more troops immediately, saying any delay puts the lives of troops already in Afghanistan at greater risk.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told CNN on Sunday his party would support a troop increase if needed, adding he was troubled by the delay in the decision-making. “We think the time for decision is now,” McConnell said.