U.S. General Sees Afghan Army, Police Insufficient
Obama Strategy May Need More Funds, U.S. Troops
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the newly arrived top commander in Afghanistan, has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama's strategy for winning the war is to succeed, according to senior military officials.
Such an expansion would require spending billions more than the $7.5 billion the administration has budgeted annually to build up the Afghan army and police over the next several years, and the likely deployment of thousands more U.S. troops as trainers and advisers, officials said.
Obama has voiced strong commitment to the ongoing Afghan conflict but has been cautious about making any additional military resources available beyond the 17,000 combat troops and 4,000 military trainers he agreed to in February. That will bring the total U.S. force to 68,000 by fall.
Instead, Obama has emphasized the need to pay equal attention to other aspects of the U.S. effort, including bolstering Afghanistan's economy and governance. Announcement of any additional military resources this year would raise questions from Congress and the American public about whether his overall strategy is working as intended.
McChrystal has not yet completed a 60-day assessment of the war due next month. But Defense Department officials here and in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said he has informed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in weekly updates, of the need to increase the Afghan force substantially, as was first reported yesterday on washingtonpost.com. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss findings that have not yet been made public.
The Afghan army is already scheduled to grow from 85,000 to 134,000, an expansion originally expected to take five years but now fast-tracked for completion by 2011. Several senior Pentagon officials indicated that an adequate size for the Afghan force may be twice the expanded number.
"There are not enough Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police for our forces to partner with in operations . . . and that gap will exist into the coming years even with the planned growth already budgeted for," said a U.S. military official in Kabul who is familiar with McChrystal's ongoing review.
Without significant increases, said another U.S. official involved in training Afghan forces, "we will lose the war." Gates would have to agree to any request from McChrystal for additional funding or troops, and recommend it to Obama.
U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan told National Security Adviser James L. Jones late last month that additional Afghan forces are needed. But Jones made clear to them that Obama wants to give the nonmilitary elements of his strategy the time and resources to progress before considering new troop requests.
In a telephone interview Thursday from Italy, where he was traveling with Obama, Jones said, "It was never my intention to stifle anybody in the future, but to remind everyone that we have a strategy. . . . And it would be good to see how we're doing on all aspects of the strategy before we start focusing, as we always seem to do, on how more troops are going to solve the problem."
Jones and others agreed, however, that both reconstruction and competent governance cannot be achieved until the Afghan people are secure. The strategy calls for U.S. and Afghan forces to clear areas of the Taliban and then hold them. Commanders leading a Marine operation launched last week to drive Taliban forces from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan are already asking: "Where are the Afghan troops? Where's the economic plan? Where is the government?" Jones said.
About 4,000 Marines are involved in the current offensive, along with about 650 Afghan soldiers.