By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 14, 2009
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will not make a specific request for more troops when he submits a review of the situation there in the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday.
Instead, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal will assess conditions on the ground and make recommendations based on whether the mix and number of forces he has been allotted -- 68,000 by the end of the year -- is sufficient to execute U.S. strategy there, Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing held with Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.
"We've made clear to General McChrystal that he is free to ask for what he needs," Gates said. But "any future resource request will be considered separately and subsequent to his assessment of the security situation."
At a recent meeting with McChrystal in Brussels, Gates told the commander to concentrate on tasks that needed to be performed and the type of troops necessary to accomplish them rather than specific numbers, according to senior military officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal Pentagon deliberations.
With a focus on "troops-to-task" ratios, McChrystal is expected to provide a breakdown of future strategy -- including increased training requirements for Afghan forces -- that officials said could require at least 15,000 additional U.S. troops next year. Obama approved the deployment of 21,000 troops this year, 6,000 of whom have not yet arrived in Afghanistan.
"What he's assessing is, have I -- have I got it laid down right?" Cartwright said of McChrystal, who took command in Afghanistan two months ago.
Cartwright indicated that there might be a need for a more immediate change in tactics or a request for additional resources because of an increase in casualties among U.S. forces in roadside bombings, including in the southern province of Helmand, where Marines have been deployed recently.
Gates said an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq -- which he has raised as a possibility -- could also be a factor in making resources available for Afghanistan.
Gates previously expressed concern that the size of the international force in Afghanistan -- including about 30,000 non-U.S. troops from NATO and other allied countries -- could reach a "tipping point" whereby Afghans will turn against them. "I think that most Afghans see us as there to help them and see us as their partner," Gates said Thursday. "I just worry that we don't know what the size of the international presence, military presence, might be that would begin to change that."
Gates said that coalition forces "have to show progress over the course of the next year." Asked how long U.S. combat forces would be needed in Afghanistan, he said it was "unpredictable" and "perhaps a few years," and he emphasized plans to sharply increase recruitment and training of Afghan security forces so they could take over.
Over the longer term, Gates said that even if security is achieved, progress in building Afghanistan's economy and government institutions remains "a decades-long enterprise in a country that has been through 30 years of war and has as high an illiteracy rate as Afghanistan does and low level of economic development." The United States and international partners, he said, "are committed to that side of the equation for an indefinite period of time."
The administration has said that it considers Pakistan, where Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have established sanctuaries in the border region, a joint theater of operations with Afghanistan. No U.S. troops are deployed in Pakistan, but the U.S. military provides training and supplies, and the United States has given $15 billion in military and economic aid since 2001.
Asked Thursday about a new poll of Pakistanis indicating that 64 percent view the United States as an enemy, Gates said, "The Pakistanis probably -- and with some legitimacy -- question . . . how long are we prepared to stay there?" He said that "we walked away from them" after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and that assistance was restricted in the 1990s because of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Although a close relationship was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "it's going to take us some time to rebuild confidence" with the Pakistani people, he said.
The poll, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, found that 16 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable view of the United States. Thirteen percent said they had confidence in President Obama, a stark contrast to his overwhelming popularity in much of the rest of the world. But more than half said improved relations between Pakistan and the United States were important.
The survey also found that Pakistani views of al-Qaeda and the Taliban have shifted markedly since last year, with unfavorable opinions doubling to two-thirds of about 1,200 adults questioned, largely in urban areas. The poll was conducted in late May and early June, about a month after the Pakistani army began a major offensive against Taliban forces in the Swat Valley region.
Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.