Advisers to the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan say he needs more troops, a view that suggests US Army General Stanley McChrystal may soon ask the Obama administration for extra forces.
McChrystal, who took command in mid-June with a brief to revitalize the war effort, is due to complete an assessment of the situation in Afghanistan by mid-August and is also working on an analysis of the resources he requires.
In interviews with Reuters and public comments, prominent analysts advising him say he will need more boots on the ground even after force levels reach 68 000 US troops on top of more than 30 000 from allied nations later this year.
The size of any proposed increase remains unclear but the analysts say McChrystal is likely to need extra troops both to take territory from the Taliban and other insurgents and to expand dramatically the training of Afghanistan’s security forces.
Stephen Biddle, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said a “sizable reinforcement of the US troop count” was necessary.
Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington suggested the US would have to add several more brigade combat teams units of between 3000 and 5000 troops.
“We, the US, are going to have to provide the resources if we want to win,” Cordesman said.
“This means very substantial budget increases. It means more brigade combat troops and it means financing both the civilian effort needed in the field and a near doubling of Afghan national security forces,” he said.
Biddle and Cordesman were among about a dozen analysts who formed a strategic assessment group at McChrystal’s request and recently spent several weeks in Afghanistan.
Although the analysts offered their views in a personal capacity and said they did not speak for McChrystal, their findings are likely to have a big influence on his thinking.
“It’s my personal belief that we need more resources in Afghanistan,” said Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, another member of the assessment group.
“I feel confident the report will ask for more resources.”
McChrystal, however, may face a challenge persuading top Obama administration officials to send more troops.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA chief who helped mujahideen rebels drive Soviet troops from Afghanistan, has expressed concern that Afghans will see the US and NATO presence as an occupying force if it gets too large.
Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution in Washington said he did not see the need for more troops but that view was not shared by most of his fellow assessment group members or senior commanders in Afghanistan.
Etienne de Durand, an analyst at French foreign policy think tank IFRI who was also a member of the group, said the number of troops and other resources required depended on the scale of the West’s ambitions.
“If you want to stabilize the whole of Afghanistan, improve governance and implement wide-ranging economic reforms, the means are very clearly insufficient,” he said.
“But if the aims are a bit less ambitious, if the aim is to help the Afghan state get to its feet, and in particular build up the army, the police, the judicial system, then the means are still insufficient but not by quite the same amount.”
Governance seen as vital
Several of the analysts, echoing the view of military commanders, stressed the importance of establishing governance in Afghanistan, a daunting challenge in one of the world’s poorest countries, shattered by three decades of war.
Commanders often say they can clear an area of insurgents but then the Afghan state needs to provide some basic forms of government — security, a justice system, schools and healthcare to win over local people and keep enemy forces out.
US officials and analysts have criticized widespread corruption in the government of President Hamid Karzai, who is standing for re-election on August 20.
“I worry about governance improvement a lot more than I worry about security improvement,” said Biddle, who suggested the US and NATO should apply more leverage on the Afghan government to clamp down on corruption.
The analysts also voiced concern about intelligence, saying surprisingly little was known about the dynamics of Afghan society and the insurgency nearly eight years after US-led forces entered the country.
Under President George W. Bush, the Iraq war was the top US military priority and commanders in Afghanistan had to make do with much smaller numbers of troops as well as intelligence experts and systems such as surveillance drones.
“What is most striking about Afghanistan is how many people are still acting like this was the first year in Afghanistan,” Cordesman told a news briefing last week.
Pic: US troops