“The situation is serious and I choose that word very, very carefully,” he told military and defence experts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
“Neither the success or failure for our endeavour there in support of the Afghan people and the government can be taken for granted,” he said.
“My assessment, my best military judgment, is that the situation is in some ways deteriorating, but not in all ways.”
He went on to say that violence across the country was up, and it was up “not only because there are more coalition forces, it is up because the insurgency is growing.”
McChrystal has said previously that the mission in Afghanistan, involving 100 000 foreign troops of which around 60 000 are American, faces failure unless the strategy is shifted. He also believes, according to US officials, that up to 40 000 more troops and trainers are needed for the war.
His recommendations on how to pursue the conflict have been handed to the Pentagon and the White House, and President Barack Obama is now carrying out a series of discussions with policy experts and analysts on how the strategy needs changing.
Once those discussions are complete, and US officials have said that could take weeks, a decision is expected on whether more troops are required or not.
McChrystal would not be drawn yesterday about how many more troops he wants, saying only that he believed “resources and goals” would be aligned in the end. But he said those fighting the war needed to be ready to do things differently.
“Whether we like it or not, we have a conventional warfare mentality,” he said. “We must do things dramatically differently, even uncomfortably differently,” he said, referring to the need to take risks to protect Afghan civilians.
“I discount immediately anyone who simplifies the problem or offers a solution…or says ‘this is what you have got to do’ because they absolutely have no clue about the complexity of what we are dealing with.”
Britain, which with 9000 troops is the largest contributor to the 42-nation NATO coalition after the Americans, has suggested that it will only increase its commitment if the extra forces are used for training Afghan soldiers and police.
That line twins with the position of other major European powers with troops in the conflict, including Germany and France, who want to focus more on training than combat.
Britain’s Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said yesterday any increase in soldiers was some way off and not guaranteed.
“Before I agree to any increase in troop numbers, I must be sure that the balance of risks is acceptable by evaluating the capacity of the supply chain to properly equip an increased force,” he told the Labour Party’s annual conference.
Speaking at the same meeting, Foreign Secretary David Miliband repeated a call for talks with lesser elements of the Taliban if the poison was to be drawn from the insurgency.
“The way to defeat this enemy is to divide it separate the hardcore from the rest,” Miliband said.
“Does that mean the Afghan government talking to the Taliban? Yes, with a simple message: Live within the constitution and you can come home to your communities and have a share of power, but stay outside, in hiding and you will face an unremitting military force.”
Pic: US Army General- Stanely McChrystal