Foreign armies fighting to crush a raging Taliban insurgency need a whole "new strategy" based on defending Afghans, not seeking out and killing Taliban, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Monday as four more coalition soldiers died, making August the bloodiest month for allied forces since the war began.
Nearly eight years after toppling the Taliban and driving al-Qaeda into remote mountainous regions of Pakistan, the grim strategic assessment of the man who commands all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan is that the war is still winnable.
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal said in a terse public statement as he sent his strategic assessment to Washington and allied governments.
The White House warned that the war will take a long time. "We're not going to see the entire thing turn around in a few months after years and years of neglect," President Barack Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said. The White House blames the Bush administration for failing to properly wage the war. The U.S.-led war effort will "disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately destroy al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. [but]it's going to take some doing. It's going to take more resources."
With more than 100,000 foreign soldiers - including more than 60,000 Americans and 2,500 Canadians - already in Afghanistan, the general's report to NATO and the Pentagon amounts to a sobering admission that nearly eight years of counterinsurgency warfare have largely failed, despite tens of thousands of Afghan deaths and tens of billions spent on aid and development.
Afghanistan's government is widely seen as corrupt and inept, holding sway over Kabul and little else. The Taliban control vast swaths of the country, especially in the south and east. An election earlier this month - initially deemed a "success" by Mr. Obama and others - now appears to have been deeply flawed. Hundreds of serious allegations of ballot-box stuffing, vote-rigging, and intimidation mean it could take months to determine the outcome.
Two U.S. soldiers and two British soldiers were killed Monday in separate attacks, making August the deadliest month for foreign forces since the United States launched the war in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Washington has already tripled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the past three years. The strategic assessment Gen. McChrystal delivered yesterday to both NATO in Brussels and the U.S. chain of command is expected to be followed by a separate request next month for thousands of more troops - perhaps as many as 20,000.
Although Mr. Obama vowed during the U.S. election campaign to focus on winning the war in Afghanistan while pulling out of Iraq, he now faces mounting opposition from within his own party.
Polls show public support flagging with barely one in four Americans backing sending more troops. Countries such as Canada and the Netherlands have set end dates for combat operations. If allies widely considered among the most loyal in America leave Afghanistan, Mr. Obama will face even greater domestic opposition to sending more U.S. troops.
Getting recalcitrant NATO allies to send more troops - especially to areas in the south and east where most of the fighting and dying occurs - bedevils the alliance.
"I would not exclude the possibility that we need more combat troops, but first and foremost I would say that we need to increase significantly the number of Afghan soldiers," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a Bloomberg interview Sunday.
Meanwhile, amid a flurry of new allegations about election-rigging, the slow process of counting millions of votes continues. Latest partial results - fewer than half the ballots have been counted - showed incumbent President Hamid Karzai with roughly 46 per cent, widening his lead over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who has 33 per cent.
However, Mr. Karzai is still well short of the 50 per cent needed to avoid a runoff election.