A new strategy in Afghanistan?
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is preparing a new strategy that calls for major changes in the way U.S. and other NATO troops there operate, a vast increase in the size of Afghan security forces and an intensified military effort to root out corruption among local government officials, according to several people familiar with the contents of an assessment report that outlines his approach to the war.There is more.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took charge of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, appears inclined to request an increase in American troops to implement the new strategy, which aims to use more unconventional methods to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, according to members of an advisory group he convened to work on the assessment. Such a request could receive a chilly reception at the White House, where some members of President Obama's national security team have expressed reluctance about authorizing any more deployments.
Senior military officials said McChrystal is waiting for a recommendation from a team of military planners in Kabul before reaching a final decision on a troop request. Several members of the advisory group, who spoke about the issue of force levels on the condition of anonymity, said that they think more U.S. troops are needed but that it was not clear how large an increase McChrystal would seek.
"There was a very broad consensus on the part of the assessment team that the effort is under-resourced and will require additional resources to get the job done," a senior military official in Kabul said.
A request for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan could pose a political challenge for Obama. Some leading congressional Democrats have voiced skepticism about sustaining current force levels, set to reach 68,000 by the fall. After approving an extra 21,000 troops in the spring, Obama himself questioned whether "piling on more and more troops" would lead to success, and his national security adviser, James L. Jones, told U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan last month that the administration wants to hold troop levels flat for now.
One senior administration official said some members of Obama's national security team want to see how McChrystal uses the 21,000 additional troops before any more deployments are authorized. "It'll be a tough sell," the official said.
One of the key changes outlined in the latest drafts of the assessment report, which will be provided to Gates by mid-August, is a shift in the "operational culture" of U.S. and NATO forces. Commanders will be encouraged to increase contact with Afghans, even if it means living in less-secure outposts inside towns and spending more time on foot patrols instead of in vehicles.
The report calls for intelligence resources to be realigned to focus more on tribal and social dynamics so commanders can identify local power brokers and work with them. Until recently, the vast majority of U.S. and NATO intelligence assets had been oriented toward tracking insurgents.
The changes are aimed at fulfilling McChrystal's view that the primary mission of the international forces is not to conduct raids against Taliban strongholds but to protect civilians and help the Afghan government assume responsibility for maintaining security. "The focus has to be on the people," he said in a recent interview.
To accomplish that, McChrystal has indicated that he is considering moving troops out of remote mountain valleys where Taliban fighters have traditionally sought sanctuary and concentrating more forces around key population centers.
The assessment report also urges the United States and NATO to almost double the size of the Afghan security forces. It calls for expanding the Afghan army from 134,000 soldiers to about 240,000, and the police force from 92,000 personnel to about 160,000. Such an increase would require additional U.S. forces to conduct training and mentoring.
If getting more troops is a tough sell, it is because Democrats seem to have a profound ignorance of counterinsurgency warfare. By this point it has to be a willful ignorance. It has been obvious for some time that more troops are needed to get the kind of force to space ratio needed to cut off the movement of the Taliban and protect the civilians. We have already seen how effective this kind of strategy can be in Iraq, yet it si still a tough sell?
It is also pretty obvious that we need to add more Afghan forces to the fight. They can help in gathering intelligence and spotting the enemy. They are an important aspect of the force to space ratio and protecting the locals.