McChrystal: More troops or Afghan war is lost

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.”


Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report


  1. RichardKanePA

    We face a real crisis. Bin Laden wanted US troops out of Sacred Muslim soil, and US troops were removed from Saudi Arabia in 2003. Cheney claims that force and fear of force stopped a second terror attack, but left out that force was mixed with appeasement.

    Many want to see Bush representing Amerika the evil Imperialist and Obama the America representing the land of the free, but their Afghan policy is similar enough that if al Qaeda can launch another attack, it might help them get the US out of Afghanistan.

    The Northern Alliance in 1981 was slowing gaining power in Afghanistan, US troops seizing control, then in the end the Taliban in secure control of Afghanistan, may have been the scenario bin Laden planned.

  2. gazelle1929

    “Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.”

    Then what the hell are we doing there?

  3. MightyMo

    As far as conflict goes, we Americans can feel much, much better about both our involvement being respectable, and that it will be assessed in a mature and realistic manner, instead of being based on personal ideology or scripture.
    Bush waged his conflict (and I do mean “his” conflict) based on lies in order to gain support for his personal agenda of fighting a conflict based on good vs. evil.
    I trust Obama to make good strategic and tactical decisions based on logic and intelligence, and not on some ridiculous gut feeling.

  4. Sandra Price

    I remember when the discussion of sending troops to Afghanistan was the topic on every news source. Our government told us this would not be a ground war but that our airforce would simply handle the problem and our men would not be in danger. Of course the same was said of our going into Iraq. I remember the missile defense contracts were sold to the Tax payers with the same argument. Did I miss something from listening to these arguments? We lose many soldiers who drive and walk over land mines and then are faced with suicide people on the streets.

    Did our leaders lie to us or did they simply not understand how to fight wars on the ground? We hand the Federal Government billions of dollars to win these wars and they want more men.

    I see nothing wrong with pulling our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq and simply line up our missiles to strike those same nations and this time threaton to turn them into moulten glass. Point a couple of these loaded missiles at Iran and explain to them that we have had enough terrorism.

    What is the hold that the Middle East has over us? Do we deal for oil in exchange for our own soldiers? Have we sold the whole damn thing to the Arabs? or maybe Israel? Whatever we did, it is time to stop this deadly nonsense.

    What deals did President Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld make with the Taliban?

  5. Carl Nemo

    “Did our leaders lie to us or…” extract from post

    Yes, Sandra, they lie to us all the time. That’s what crimpols do.

    “Point a couple of these loaded missiles at Iran…” post extract

    We need to start minding our own business as a nation and to quit threatening everyone and anyone on earth that refuses to accept our seemingly terminal, consumeristic “shop until you drop” faux democratic paradigm. People in the U.S. generally speaking worship the “god of mammon” while there are those in the world that still believe in their god and are willing to die for those beliefs. Westerners are wired to stay alive at any price so they can simply shop another day. : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  6. jgw

    I may be confused about this but, I think, what the general really wants to do is to take over sections of Afghanistan, town/village by village. Once secured he asked Karzai to give him people to take over the village so the soldiers could do it again and again. I think this means that Karzai has us offering him an opportunity to put his people in every village. Karzai, on the other hand, doesn’t want to help so we need to send more troops.

    If I am right then the first thing we have to do is to get rid of Karzai and get somebody who is actually interested in governing the entire country (instead of sitting in the capital getting kickbacks). If they don’t even have a leader who understands, we are doomed……

    I suspect, however, that what will eventually happen is that we are going to cut a bunch of deals with the drug dealing Taliban (buy them off), declare victory, and shut it down. It will probably take a couple hundred more dead, though, just to prove we are sincere, before we can do that.

    Remember – we have not actually won a war since WWII, except, maybe, Grenada. I am not convinced we even know what “win” means!

    Port Angeles, WA

  7. Carl Nemo

    Hi jgw,

    “I may be confused about this but, I think, what the general really wants to do is to take over sections of Afghanistan, town/village by village.”…extract from post

    This same failed tactic was used in Nam. Remember LBJ waxing poetically about “winning the hearts and minds” of our enemies. :))

    Btw, we did not win WWII single-handedly either, but took the combined effort of allies and even more importantly faceless resistance fighters everywhere sabotaging and resisting the Axis efforts. Other than our supplies and ability to produce such at a phenomenal rate such as Liberty ships etc. we are legends in our own minds as to us being the sole victors.

    It’s better to win the peace than to win on the field of battle; ie., a war in Afghanistan. Its peoples will do just fine without our presence or that of any other nation. They are a diverse, contentious lot who fiercely observe the tenets of Islam. They have withstood the onslaught of many would be conquerors and will do so into the future.

    General McChrystal best take refresher courses at the War College on Sun Tzu, Von Clausewitz et al. focusing on the deadly hazards and financial consequences of waging asymmetric/counter-guerilla warfare in faraway regions from home.

    Carl Nemo **==

  8. woody188

    Perhaps the lesson here for Americans is that it is possible to take our country back if only we are willing to sacrifice for it.

    Afghans have proven this time and again against nearly every major imperialist power in history.

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