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Last updated: September 22, 2009 3:41 am
The White House on Monday insisted it would not be rushed into sending more troops to Afghanistan, in spite of a warning from the top US general in the country that the West’s mission risked “failure” without further reinforcements.
By raising the prospect of a humiliating defeat by the Taliban, General Stanley McChrystal raised the pressure on Barack Obama to turn around a war that could define his presidency.
But on Monday the administration said Mr Obama was concentrating on “getting the strategy right”, rather than merely sending more troops. “We’re not going to make any decisions of any significance until we know the outcome of this election,” said Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, referring to the disputed Afghan presidential contest. ”We have to know who our counterparts are and we have to make it clear that in return for X, we expect Y,” she said to NPR.
She referred to Gen McChrystal’s report as ”critically important, but ... part of the overall process”, adding ”there are many other considerations that we have to take into account.”
“We’re going to conduct that strategic assessment ... before we make resource decisions, rather than having this go the other way around,” said Robert Gibbs, the presidential spokesman.
In his 66-page assessment, Gen McChrystal said it was essential to win support from the Afghan people by tackling resentment against foreign troops and the west-backed Kabul government.
“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,” said Gen McChrystal, who has commanded international forces in Afghanistan since June.
Sounding a note of optimism, he added: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”
The release of Gen McChrystal’s confidential assessment, obtained by the Washington Post, intensifies debate over whether Mr Obama should stake his reputation on backing a complex security and nation-building exercise, or define success in Afghanistan more modestly.
Gen McChrystal is preparing a separate request for more troops. But Mr Gibbs said he did not expect Gen McChrystal to send that request for “a little bit” while Mr Obama was still analysing overall strategy.
Gen McChrystal’s new plan is based on the assumption that US forces and their Western allies must overcome a “crisis of confidence” among Afghans by venturing out of their armoured vehicles or bases to provide better protection. Many supporters of such a counterinsurgency approach call for a big push to expel the Taliban from their traditional heartland of Kandahar.
Hammering home the risks Mr Obama faces, Gen McChrystal warned that his strategy could result in greater casualties in the short-run for the international mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), and Afghan forces.
Lasting peace would depend on a rapid expansion of the local army and police, Gen McChrystal argued. He said the Afghan army needed to increase to 240,000 troops from its current force of 92,000 soldiers. The Obama administration had endorsed a plan to expand it to 134,000 by 2011.
The report, submitted last month, is unsparing in its assessment of the challenges international forces face in Afghanistan.
“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF[international force]’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government,” the report says.
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