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Obama's War

Obama's War

Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan | Full Coverage

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McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'

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The result has been a "crisis of confidence among Afghans," he writes. "Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents."

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McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves."

McChrystal continues: "Afghan social, political, economic, and cultural affairs are complex and poorly understood. ISAF does not sufficiently appreciate the dynamics in local communities, nor how the insurgency, corruption, incompetent officials, power-brokers, and criminality all combine to affect the Afghan population."

Coalition intelligence-gathering has focused on how to attack insurgents, hindering "ISAF's comprehension of the critical aspects of Afghan society."

In a four-page annex on detainee operations, McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the government and coalition forces. He cites as examples an apparent prison connection to the 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and other attacks. "Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military."

The assessment says that Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents "represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan Corrections System," in which "[h]ardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them."

Noting that the United States "came to Afghanistan vowing to deny these same enemies safe haven in 2001," he says they now operate with relative impunity in the prisons. "There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan," his assessment says.

McChrystal outlines a plan to build up the Afghan government's ability to manage its detention facilities and eventually put all such operations under Afghan control, including the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, which the United States runs.

For now, because of a lack of capacity, "productive interrogations and detainee intelligence collection have been reduced" at Bagram. "As a result, hundreds are held without charge or without a defined way-ahead. This allows the enemy to radicalize them far beyond their pre-capture orientation. The problem can no longer be ignored."

McChrystal's Plan

The general says his command is "not adequately executing the basics" of counterinsurgency by putting the Afghan people first. "ISAF personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army," he writes. "Key personnel in ISAF must receive training in local languages."

He also says that coalition forces will change their operational culture, in part by spending "as little time as possible in armored vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases." Strengthening Afghans' sense of security will require troops to take greater risks, but the coalition "cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people."

McChrystal warns that in the short run, it "is realistic to expect that Afghan and coalition casualties will increase."


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