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Officials close to Gen. McChrystal have said he will request 20,000 more U.S. troops to provide security for Afghan civilians and to train Afghans. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the troop request had not been made.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who traveled with the mujahedeen and witnessed their siege of Jalalabad in 1989, said U.S. planners are not heeding the lessons of the past.

“If the Taliban is going is be defeated, it’s got to be by the Afghan people themselves, not by sending more U.S. troops, which could actually be counterproductive,” he said.

He noted that Afghan militias did the fighting on the ground that toppled the Taliban in 2001 while the U.S. provided air support, money and weapons.

“We need widespread support for a moderate anti-Taliban decentralized system in Afghanistan,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “Our allies there, who once shared our same goal are now alienated and alone, and many are being co-opted by the enemy.”

In a sense, the warlords have never gone away.

“It is like being transported to another place and time,” said a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the country who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

“We cannot expect after 30 years of war in Afghanistan that the people are not prepared to fight for their own freedom. … They have not been defeated since Alexander the Great. What makes us think that we can win this without the cooperation of the tribes? It’s not about Karzai; it’s about the tribes.”

Pointing to growing Taliban strength in the south and east and more recent inroads in the north, Gen. Dostum vowed that he could stabilize nine northern provinces with 10,000 fighters within three months if given the order.

Such bluster is not out of character for Gen. Dostum, whose homecoming was decried by rights activists as an affront to an already fragile democracy.

Still, public distrust of foreign forces has been amplified by hundreds of civilian deaths from errant military operations. The latest incident, a Sept. 4 airstrike in Kunduz province that Afghan authorities say killed 30 civilians, has provoked a fresh round of outrage.

To ease some of the pressure, former militia commanders should be enlisted to beat back the Taliban much as they did in late 2001, said several U.S. military officials and former Northern Alliance members. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing strategic review.

“Give us the support we need, and we will win this battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda,” said Sher, another former fighter with the Northern Alliance. “We are ready to do what we must to defeat them.”

Sher, who asked that only his first name be used because of security concerns, told The Times, “We are ready to die for our freedom and the freedom of our children. The U.S. commanders are not winning this fight. Every day we hear commanders saying that the Taliban is getting stronger.”

Contradicting that argument, a U.S. military official in Afghanistan said there are concerns that reverting to supplying informal “tribal” militias could “lead to the resurgence of warlordism” and defeat attempts to democratize the country and build a professional military.

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