- The Washington Times - Monday, September 21, 2009

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a confidential report that without additional forces, the war against insurgents there will end in failure, The Washington Post reported Monday.

McChrystal’s grim assessment of the war was published on the Post’s Web site, with some portions withheld at the government’s request.

“Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating,” McChrystal wrote in his summary.

The report was sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in August and is now under review by President Barack Obama, who is trying to decide whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

While asking for more troops, McChrystal also pointed out “the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy.” The U.S. needs to interact better with the Afghan people, McChrystal said, and better organize its efforts with NATO allies.

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 that the report is not complete.

“The resource request is being finalized and will be sent forward to the chain of command at some point in the near future,” Smith said from Afghanistan.

Obama denied asking McChrystal to sit on the request, but he gave no deadline for making a decision about whether to send more Americans into harm’s way.

Obama said in a series of television interviews broadcast Sunday that he will not allow politics to govern his decision. He left little doubt he is re-evaluating whether more forces will do any good.

“The first question is, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” Obama said. “Are we pursuing the right strategy?”

The war has taken on a highly partisan edge. Senate Republicans are demanding an influx of forces to turn around a war that soon will enter its ninth year, while members of Obama’s own party are trying to put on the brakes.

“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.

“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.

McChrystal found security worse than he expected when he took command this summer to lead what Obama described as a narrowed, intensive campaign to uproot al-Qaida and prevent the terrorist group from again using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

In the interviews taped Friday at the White House, Obama said he’s asking these questions of the military: “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.”

Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the number of U.S. forces there to a record 68,000, and watched as Marines pushed deep into Taliban-controlled districts ahead of Afghanistan’s national elections in August.

The disappointing outcome of the voting — no definitive winner weeks later and mounting allegations that the incumbent President Hamid Karzai rigged the election — is coloring both Obama’s view of the conflict and the partisan debate.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has told Obama he wants no new troops request at least until the United States makes a bolder effort to expand and train Afghanistan’s own armed forces.

On Sunday, Levin addressed the give-and-take over McChrystal’s report.

“I think what’s going on here is that there is a number of questions which are being asked to Gen. McChrystal about some of the assumptions which have been previously made in the strategy, including that there would be an election which would be a stabilizing influence instead of a destabilizing influence,” said Levin.

The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama should follow the military’s advice. McConnell said Petraeus “did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he’s doing. Gen. McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well.”

Obama spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Levin and McConnell were on CNN.

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