McChrystal urges closer ties with Afghans

The top U.S. general in Afghanistan wants a new focus on strengthening and partnering with Afghan security forces “down to the platoon level” and will review the current use of informal “tribal” militia for fear they could lead to the resurgence of warlordism, U.S. military officials and civilian specialists say.

As U.S. troops ended their deadliest month in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Monday gave the Pentagon and NATO a long-awaited reassessment of strategy in the 8-year-old war. While it did not ask for a specific number of additional U.S. troops, a U.S. military official familiar with the assessment said a request for “necessary resources” to implement the strategy would come soon. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to give U.S. and NATO leaders time to consider the review.

Outside advisers have recommended 20,000 to 30,000 additional American military personnel in Afghanistan on top of the buildup to 68,000 troops by the end of the year, but that number may be difficult for the Pentagon, White House and Capitol Hill to digest. Two more U.S. soldiers died Monday, bringing to 47 the U.S. toll for August.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity effort,” Gen. McChrystal said Monday in a press release.

Bruce Riedel, who headed the administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan review earlier this year, said “there is a huge debate starting behind the scenes” on how many U.S. troops are necessary to turn around the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have made significant gains.

“How big do we want to do this?” Mr. Riedel said. “The generals will want more but face a reluctant Democratic Party and a very anxious White House.”

While some analysts have suggested another 20,000 to 30,000 troops, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will be “more conservative,” Mr. Riedel said. “They really need more trainers but there aren’t enough, so they will take combat troops and turn them into trainers,” he said.

Mr. Gates told Bloomberg TV Monday that he had asked Gen. McChrystal to assess “the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Afghanistan, whether the Afghans will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner and how do you differentiate those and how do you make sure you don’t lose their confidence in us as their partner.”

“While there is a lot of gloom and doom going around, I think that Gen. McChrystal’s assessment will be a realistic one, and set forth the challenges we have in front of us,” Mr. Gates told reporters earlier.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the McChrystal assessment is on its way to President Obama but that at “each step along the way, commanders and policymakers will add their comments to the strategic assessment that Gen. McChrystal has made, understanding that I think there’s broad agreement that, for many years, our effort in Afghanistan has been under-resourced - politically, militarily, economically.”

The U.S. military official told The Times that one “dramatic shift from the past” was the importance Gen. McChrystal attached to partnership with Afghan security forces.

“The key is partnering, partnering, partnering … partnering all the way down to platoon level with the [Afghan national army] which is bold, and distinctly new,” the official said.

During a recent trip to assess a community policing pilot program in Wardak province west of Kabul, Gen. McChrystal pledged to “grow the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] more quickly.”

Maj. David Buffaloe, a military planner for the U.S.-led coalition, said that meant coalition mentors “living, planning, operating, training — everything with the ANSF — at all levels.”

While Gen. McChrystal did not include outright troop requests in his assessment, he will make “a statement of [what he would] need” to accomplish his strategy, Maj. Buffaloe said. “If we’ve got a strategy that calls for more troops, it would be nice to actually get them.”

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