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Week in review: Pentagon impatient with Obama

A report by the top US commander in Afghanistan was leaked to Washington Post in a sign of growing impatience inside the Pentagon as the US president re-examines the entire strategy to the war.

A report by the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, was leaked to Washington Post in a sign of growing impatience inside the Pentagon as the US president, Barack Obama, re-examines the entire strategy to the war. "In Kabul, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a 'war of necessity' but still hasn't given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly," McClatchy Newspapers reported. "Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy. " 'Yes, he'll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,' a senior official in Kabul said. 'He'll hold his ground. He's not going to bend to political pressure.' "On Thursday, [the US secretary of defense, Robert] Gates danced around the question of when the administration would be ready to receive McChrystal's request, which was completed in late August. 'We're working through the process by which we want that submitted,' he said." That answer may have frustrated Gen McChrystal and shortly thereafter his reported was obtained by The Washington Post. In the leaked report he says: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures - risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." The Washington Post reported: "[the US commander] repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians. "He provides extensive new details about the Taliban insurgency, which he calls a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan's prisons to recruit members and even plan operations. "McChrystal's assessment is one of several options the White House is considering. His plan could intensify a national debate in which leading Democratic lawmakers have expressed reluctance about committing more troops to an increasingly unpopular war. Obama said last week that he will not decide whether to send more troops until he has 'absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be'." In Slate, Fred Kaplan says: "The push is on for President Barack Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, perhaps as many as 40,000 more. Boxing in Obama was almost certainly the aim of whoever gave The Washington Post's Bob Woodward a copy of the 66-page internal memo by Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. "Most of the news stories about the memo have emphasised its conclusion that, without more US troops, the war will probably be lost to the Taliban. But the memo (reprinted in full on the Post's Web site) says many other things, too. In fact, high up in his report, McChrystal emphasises that focusing only on troop requirements 'misses the point entirely'. "The point that this focus misses, the general writes, is that this is a war against insurgencies and therefore requires 'a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign,' in which the main objective is not so much to destroy the enemy but rather to protect the Afghan people - to provide them with security so that the Afghan government can deliver basic services. "When it comes to defeating the Taliban, the memo adds, a 'responsive and accountable government' - one 'that the Afghan people find acceptable' - is every bit as important as a secure environment." In Time magazine, Joe Klein says: "What's provocative about the report is that it was leaked to [Bob] Woodward - a serious breach of conduct by someone, possibly in the military (or a supporter the military's position). This was an effort to lobby a quick decision on troop strength - which the military wants, so that it can begin planning the 2010 fighting season in Afghanistan. But a quick decision is not a good idea right now. "The president needs to know what the next Afghan governmnet is going to look like - will there be a runoff between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah? If Karzai still manages to score more than 50 per cent after the phony ballots are tossed, will Abdullah and other Karzai opponents endorse the Karzai government? What sort of moves will Karzai make to restore some confidence in his government? Are the Canadians going to stay in Kandarhar Province, are the British going to stay in Helmand? Are the Dutch and Australians going to stay in Uruzgan? "Obama was absolutely right on the Sunday talk shows: troop levels aren't nearly as important as strategy. He has, at most, one more shot at getting this right." On Wednesday, The New York Times reported: "President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan, including a plan advocated by Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out al Qa'eda there and in Pakistan, officials said Tuesday. "The options under review are part of what administration officials described as a wholesale reconsideration of a strategy the president announced with fanfare just six months ago. Two new intelligence reports are being conducted to evaluate Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said... "In looking at other options, aides said, Mr Obama might just be testing assumptions - and assuring liberals in his own party that he was not rushing into a further expansion of the war - before ultimately agreeing to the anticipated troop request from General McChrystal. But the review suggests the president is having second thoughts about how deeply to engage in an intractable eight-year conflict that is not going well. "Although Mr Obama has said that a stable Afghanistan is central to the security of the United States, some advisers said he was also wary of becoming trapped in an overseas quagmire. Some Pentagon officials say they worry that he is having what they called 'buyer's remorse' after ordering an extra 21,000 troops there within weeks of taking office before even settling on a strategy." The Christian Science Monitor said: "If an ordinary Afghan could walk into the Washington war rooms where the faltering US war effort is being debated, his message would be: It's the corrupt government, stupid... "Fraudulent election practices kept good people from winning provincial council seats, says Zabit Mohammad Karim from Balkh Province. 'Without power and money, you can't do anything in this country. If we have fraud how are we going to improve the corruption?' "To be sure, most of the Afghans interviewed for this article supported sending more US forces, largely because they don't trust local security forces. Nor do they expect to be able to trust police and Afghan officials anytime soon, if a government comes to power through a rigged vote."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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