- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

U.S.-led forces are achieving a “slow win” in Afghanistan, but the less-than-decisive approach must be accelerated soon, a key commander said Friday.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, in a video conference with reporters at the Pentagon, said he remains hopeful that the Bush administration will send him more combat troops and other resources by winter.

He mentioned that Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is by necessity an “economy of force” mission, meaning it is under-resourced because the war in Iraq is considered a higher and more urgent national security priority.

“We need to get away from that, over time,” to make a stronger push in Afghanistan, Gen. Schloesser said.

The current approach, he said, is making headway but not at a rate that he considers satisfactory.

“It’s not the way that I think … the Afghans, the international community and the American people would like to see us conduct this war,” Gen. Schloesser said. “It will take longer the way we are doing it right now, as far as the level of resources that we have. I’d like to speed that up. So it’s a slow win. I’d want to make it into a solid, strong win” by committing more resources.

There are about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, compared with about 146,000 in Iraq.

Gen. Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, leads a contingent of international forces responsible for an eastern sector of Afghanistan, which includes a volatile area bordering Pakistan.

He declined to say exactly how many additional U.S. combat troops and support forces he thinks are needed in his sector but said he was optimistic that they would be provided in the next several months.

“The numbers are going to be a couple thousand - some series of thousands,” he said.

In addition to combat troops, there is a need for more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units of the type that are being used on missions in Iraq, he added.

In some areas of eastern Afghanistan, there simply are too few U.S. or coalition troops to decisively defeat the Taliban, he said.

“I can come in and I can clobber the enemy, but then I can’t hold it and stay with the people,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mullen on Wednesday recommended to President Bush that a partial shift of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan be undertaken early in 2009, but it’s not clear whether that will provide the help Gen. Schloesser says is needed to deal with enemy forces this winter.

“If we don’t do anything over the winter, the enemy will more and more try to seek safe haven in Afghanistan rather than going back to Pakistan,” Gen. Schloesser said.

U.S. and NATO officials say militants cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where they rest, recruit, train and resupply in tribal areas along the frontier where the Pakistani government has little sway.

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