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Afghanistan Strategy Not Working, US Commander McChrystal to Tell Obama

by Mark Tran

The current US military strategy in Afghanistan is not working, America's top commander is expected to admit in a review to be presented to Barack Obama in the next few days.

Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal. McCrystal's report does not mention increasing troop numbers, but the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy.(Photograph: Dennis Cook/AP) According to reports leaked to the BBC, General Stanley McChrystal will liken the US military to a bull charging at the matador-like Taliban and slightly weakened with each "cut" it receives. The review is also expected to confirm that protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban must be the top priority.

US officials have spoken openly about the failing war effort in Afghanistan and McChrystal's report will be a distillation of their strong misgivings. He says the aim should be for Afghan forces to take the lead, but that the Afghan army will not be ready for three years and the police will need longer.

The report does not mention increasing troop numbers, but the implication is that more soldiers will be needed to turn around an unsuccessful strategy. Officers in Afghanistan consider much of the effort of the last eight years wasted, with too few troops deployed and many of them placed in the wrong regions and given the wrong orders.

Any recommendation of a troop increase would come against a background of growing scepticism about the war, with the latest Washington Post-ABC news poll showing that 49% of Americans now think the fight in Afghanistan is worthwhile. Obama appointed McChrystal to turn around a war that is sucking in more and more western troops with litte discernible progress against the Taliban, which has proven to be much more resilient and organised than expected.

"Over the next 12 to 15 months, among the things you absolutely, positively have to do is persuade a sceptical American public that this can work, that you have a plan and a strategy that is feasible," Stephen Biddle, a military expert who advises the US-led command in Afghanistan, told the McClatchy-Tribune news service.

Another leading counter-insurgency expert said Afghanistan's government must fight corruption and deliver services to Afghans quickly, because Taliban militants were filling gaps and winning support. The Taliban were already running courts, hospitals and even an ombudsman in parallel to the government, making a real difference to local people, said David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to McChrystal.

"A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being out-governed. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Kilcullen told Australia's National Press Club.

Afghanistan has been in political limbo since the presidential election on 20 August, with partial results so far placing President Hamid Karzai in the lead, but not by enough to avoid a second round against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. The election, which the Taliban failed to disrupt with rocket attacks, has been marred by allegations of fraud with around a third of the votes counted.

Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert covering the elections for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington thinktank, said the Taliban controlled the countryside and had a strong presence even inside cities such as Kandahar and Ghazni.

"Outside the major cities, Afghan administration is non-existent. As President Obama must realise, whether Afghanistan is led by Hamid Karzai or anyone else, the problem for the international coalition is not one of insufficient force; it is insufficient government," Dorronsoro said.

Obama has already sent nearly 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, raising the total of US troops to about 68,000 by the end of the year. In all, Nato has committed about 100,000 troops to the war effort. McChrystal is widely expected to ask for even more forces, as he tries to implement the kind of counter-insurgency strategy that prevented Iraq from descending into all-out civil war two years ago.

While Obama has to wrestle with Afghanistan, there is also renewed concern about Iraq, where suicide bombers have stepped up attacks that have killed hundreds of Iraqis as political tension mounts ahead of January's elections.

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