- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2010

Within the U.S. military’s rank and file, there are growing doubts about winning in Afghanistan, a mood that contradicts upbeat war reports delivered to Congress last week by the top commander and officials.

A senior military intelligence official who has served in Afghanistan and participates in daily briefings on the war told The Washington Times there is a “weariness” among officers as the war nears the nine-year mark in October.

“We are a battle-hardened force, but eight years now in Afghanistan has worn us down,” said the officer, who asked not to be named because he holds a sensitive intelligence job. “Folks I work with and talk to every day just shake their heir heads in weariness.”

The U.S. military is in what many consider the last critical phase of its longest war, as a surge of some 30,000 troops is being carried out and a battle to wrest control of southern Afghanistan from the Taliban is about to begin.

The intelligence source said commanders still have not found the key to shifting the loyalties of Pashtun tribal leaders away from the rigidly Islamic Taliban and toward the democratic government of President Hamid Karzai.

“We’re fighting a cultural battle we have yet to come to grips with,” the official said. “We don’t get the Pashtun mindset. We can’t figure out how to work through the system of corruption.”

The source recalled a briefing where a three-star officer expressed little optimism about a good ending of the conflict. His remark stunned those in attendance.

The pessimism comes amid a recent increase in U.S. casualties as summer fighting between Taliban and allied forces increases. A United Nations quarterly report made public on Saturday stated that security declined in the first four months of the year as the number of roadside bombings and other attacks rose sharply.

Since the war began in October 2001, a total of 1,036 troops have been killed.

Anthony Cordesman, a member of a special assessment team a year ago that advised the top officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, wrote last week that the U.S. might leave without victory.

“The U.S. may be forced into leaving Afghanistan, regardless of its intentions to stay, or face conditions that make any stable form of victory impossible,” he wrote on his website at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Containment from the outside may be the only choice.”

One glaring problem, said Mr. Cordesman, is the July 2011 deadline set by President Obama to begin troop withdrawals. While officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top regional commander, repeatedly have said the date only begins assessing how to start leaving, it has created great confusion among Afghans.

“Many Afghan officials and officers, and allied officers and diplomats, are at best confused and at worst privately believe that we will leave,” Mr. Cordesman said. “Any visitor to Afghanistan also sees efforts at every level to rush operations in time to meet November 2010 and July 2011 reporting deadlines. The end result is that a vague de facto deadline exists.”

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that July 2011 is “a firm date” for the pullback of the 30,000 additional troops sent to the country.

Stephen Biddle, who served with Mr. Cordesman on the assessment team and is returning to Afghanistan for an update, said in an interview it is too soon to judge the surge.

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