- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said Monday that the U.S. would make a “disastrous” mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness.

Mr. Musharraf also denied that Pakistan’s elite Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was giving secret support to the Taliban, which the ISI helped build in the 1990s.

Asked by reporters and editors at The Washington Times whether the U.S. and its allies might be seen as weak because of the prolonged debate over whether to send more forces to Afghanistan, Mr. Musharraf said, “Yes, absolutely. … By this vacillation and lack of commitment to a victory and talking too much about casualties [it] shows weakness in the resolve.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commands U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, submitted a request for more troops over the weekend to the Pentagon. A U.S. defense official told The Times that Gen. McChrystal presented several scenarios that could require as many as 40,000 troops.The official spoke on the condition that he not be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

The Obama administration has said it will not be rushed into a decision on sending forces beyond the 68,000 Americans scheduled to be in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Mr. Musharraf, a former army chief of staff who seized power in a 1999 coup and resigned last year under threat of impeachment, now resides in London and is on a speaking tour in the U.S.

He said al Qaeda was less of a threat than the Taliban, which he said is growing in strength among ethnic Pashtuns who straddle the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We must win in Afghanistan,” Mr. Musharraf said, warning that otherwise it would become a haven again for al Qaeda as it was before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Quitting is not an option,” he said. “We should not delay. Earlier the better.”

As Mr. Musharraf spoke, Pakistani soldiers traded rocket and mortar fire with militants in Waziristan, a tribal area on the border with Afghanistan. Hundreds of civilians fled and a suicide car bomber killed five people, including a prominent tribal elder, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Musharraf said U.S. commanders shouldn’t “pursue [the Taliban] in areas” where they have the advantage but “draw them out” into areas where the U.S. coalition has the upper hand.

The Taliban “move with bread and onions,” Mr. Musharraf said, and don’t require the elaborate logistical support that U.S. troops do.

Gen. McChrystal, in a dire assessment of the Afghan war that was leaked to the press last week, wrote that “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan” and that senior leaders of the Taliban and other Afghan insurgents “are based in Pakistan, are linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI.”

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