McChrystal Urges European Allies to Show Resolve in Afghanistan
Thursday, October 1, 2009; 2:13 PM
LONDON, Oct. 1 -- As the White House deliberates over the future of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the top American commander there issued a call in Europe on Thursday for "resolve" in the war effort, saying that "time does matter" in charting a new course in the escalating conflict.
In his first major speech since issuing a stark assessment calling for up to 40,000 fresh troops within the next year or risk losing the war, Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned of the "serious" risks facing allied forces there. He said the current policy debate over the war may ultimately benefit military strategy by further clarifying the mission's goals. But McChrystal insisted on the need for unwavering commitment and speed in decision making, warning against a downgrading of the definition of success.
"We must show resolve," he said before a group of academics, strategists and retired military officers at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. The British, who have the largest number of troops in Afghanistan after the United States, are closely scrutinizing the White House debate. "Uncertainty disheartens our allies and emboldens our foes."
The speech, while offering a candid take on the situation on the ground, echoed much of what McChrystal had already recommended in his Aug. 30 assessment. McChrystal is expected to make a specific troops request for additional U.S. troops -- already scheduled to number 68,000 by the end of the year -- in the near future.
But it was significant because of timing and place. The Obama administration is now weighing how to proceed in Afghanistan, showing reluctance to immediately embrace McChrystal's calls for a troop surge. Additionally, he offered his take on the war while in London, even as Republicans are clamoring for him to appear before Congress to take questions on the war effort, something the Obama administration has yet to agree to.
As part of the debate, some in the administration have argued that the United States should scale down troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban in favor of a more limited effort to root out hidden al-Qaeda leaders. McChrystal was asked after his speech whether that was a good idea and said, "The short answer is: no. You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy."
McChrystal reiterated his call for a shift in approach at a critical time, with new focus on building the trust and confidence of Afghans, quelling three major insurgencies and building up Afghanistan's own police and security forces.
"I will not stand up here and say we're winning until I'm told by indicators that we are winning," he said. Addressing the reasons for the recent reverses, he said, "We have under-sourced our operations, in some areas we have under-performed, in some areas we have under-coordinated and in some ways we have not overcome very intrinsic disadvantages."
He later continued: "We are going to have to do things dramatically differently, even uncomfortably differently in the way we operate." Current security is so low in many areas, he said, that allied soldiers must often point their weapons directly at any unidentified pedestrians while traveling in caravans for safety reasons. That, he said, is obviously no way to build trust.
McChrystal was set to meet Thursday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, one of the rare leaders in Europe, in addition to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who have indicated some measure of willingness to commit more troops to the war. Brown, under pressure amid rising British military causalities, said he remains "open-minded" about sending more troops, but only if those troops were well equipped and operating under a clear mission.
Michael Williams, a lecturer in international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that the prospect of Washington "getting cold feet" over Afghanistan "has disquieted Washington's European allies." He said that after Obama's rally for more troops from Europe earlier in the year, the administration's hesitation now "does not embolden them to take political risk" with further commitments to the war. Several leaders, including Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, have recently indicated their desire to wind down their presence in Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Yet Williams noted that others, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, following her recent victory at the polls, could potentially afford to make a bigger commitment to Afghanistan. But "she's not going to take risks if Obama is faltering."
McChrystal and Brown, officials said, were also likely to discuss the issue of troop increases. The prime minister's office, however, sought to play down any European concerns over U.S. commitment, with one official there saying "there is no question that Gordon Brown and President Obama are on the same page."
Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to his report.